New Jersey lawmakers could soon approve a plan that’s designed to reduce the number of people sexually assaulted on campus.

The State Senate Higher Education Committee unanimously released a bill that calls for a $10,000 penalty to be imposed by the Secretary of Higher Education against any college or university that fails to appropriately respond to and investigate an allegation of sexual assault made by a student, and impose appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator if the allegation is substantiated.

The primary sponsor of the measure, Sen. Joe Vitale (D- Middlesex), has indicated his willingness to work with higher education officials to refine the measure before it’s posted for a vote in the full Upper House.

During a special hearing held by the state Senate Higher Education Committee at the Statehouse on Monday, representatives of several colleges discussed the issue and steps being taken at their schools to stop sexual misconduct.

“Our highest priority like yours, is to provide an academic environment that is safe for all students where they can live and learn,” Ramapo College president Peter Mercer said.

He said the school has hired additional public safety officers and increased patrols in targeted areas of campus.

He said those officers are trained in trauma-informed responses to sexual assault reports, and efforts have been expanded to work with national groups, including the It’s On Us campaign to increase education and awareness among to ensure proper investigations.

He also said mandatory training for all new students has been crafted “to include a focus on addressing root causes of rape culture, meaning a culture that normalizes and excuses sexual violence.”

Katherine McGee, the Ramapo College Title IX coordinator, said if sexual assault is to be eliminated on campus, students must truly understand what consent for sexual activity really means — and accordingly, an affirmative consent standard has been adopted.

“Affirmative consent simply means permission for sexual activity, voluntary, unambiguous clear agreement for sexual activity," she said.

She said silence or lack of protest does not constitute consent.

“A person must be conscious to give consent. Someone who is asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol cannot consent," she said.

She stressed interactive programs, mandatory Web-based trainings and poster campaigns all reinforce the importance of informed consent.

Jackie Moran, the director of compliance for student affairs at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said students must complete a mandatory review of sexual misconduct, including viewing a presentation of SCREAM Theater before the semester begins.

SCREAM stands for Students Challenging Realities and Educating Against Myths, a peer education improvisational theater group associated with the Office for Violence Prevention.

She told the panel while efforts at Rutgers and other schools have been increased to prevent sexual misconduct, it’s not possible to completely stop it from happening.

“Every campus is unique, and within each campus, every case is unique, and requires different strategies to assist students,” she said.

“There is no silver bullet that will end sexual at Rutgers or at any college campus. I would like nothing more than to be able to say that my job no longer necessary because we have solved the problem, but it is not realistic," she said.

 

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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