AUGUSTA – Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, introduced legislation to support survivors of sexual violence on college campuses at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The bill – LD 1727, “An Act Concerning Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses” – aims to increase prevention, invest in long-term resources to support survivors and gather additional data on sexual violence on college campuses.
“No one, let alone a college student, should have to worry about sexual violence. However, the truth is that sexual assault is an all too common occurrence on college campuses. All you have to do is look at the data on sexual violence, listen to the stories of survivors or talk to any college student. It represents an ugly stain on our education system,” said President Jackson. “I want to thank all of the students who partnered with me on this legislation as well as the students who bravely shared their experiences with the committee today. I’m in awe of their drive and commitment to make things better for their peers and the students who follow in their footsteps. We owe it to them to make sure that Maine college campuses offer a safe environment to learn and prepare for the workforce.”
LD 1727 is the product of a year-long effort led by Maine college students in conjunction with the Senate President’s Office. It would require annual evidence-based prevention and trauma-response training for college students and employees. It also directs Maine colleges and universities to designate confidential resource advisors in an effort to provide ongoing support for survivors of sexual violence. This individual can be an existing employee or a partner from a sexual assault or domestic violence support center.
“When I was in college, there was no policy for how reports of sexual assault should be handled,” said co-sponsor Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono. “The university I attended was more focused on coddling perpetrators than they were supporting, protecting and empowering those who experienced sexual assault. LD 1727 creates a pathway to assist survivors, and I am proud to support it.”
The measure would establish the Higher Education Interpersonal Violence Advisory Commission to put together a biennial climate survey to increase transparency, measure progress, and improve policy decisions in Maine’s institutions of higher learning. The commission’s membership includes a diverse group of stakeholders including representatives from the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, representatives of post-secondary institutions, representatives of key advocacy organizations, students and research experts.
“LD 1727 aims to prevent campus sexual violence, as well as to recognize the reality of the occurrence of sexual violence and the need to support survivors within this reality. Rather than focusing on or even including punitive measures, this bill focuses wholly on preventing sexual violence and supporting survivors,” said Lotte Parsons, Bowdoin College and Co-State Director of Every Voice Coalition Maine.
The bill has gone through a lengthy stakeholder process and the amended version reflects input and feedback from a wide variety of organizations and individuals. Similar legislation has passed with strong, bipartisan support in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“This disruption in education for so many survivors has incredible life-long financial impacts including student loan debt or career and earning trajectory. Campus sexual violence is an issue that is continually becoming worse and we have to do something about it,” said India McNeill, Bates College student and Co-State Director for Every Voice Coalition Maine. “As legislators, you all have the power to make a change.”
LD 1727 will be the subject of additional work sessions in the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.