On Friday, Oct. 13 around 4:30 in the afternoon, an unidentified male allegedly entered a female student’s dormitory room at Rutgers University and abruptly began kissing her while touching her over her clothes inappropriately. The sexual assault occurred less than 24 hours after former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Rutgers University students about ending rape and sexual assault culture on campuses and throughout the country. Biden stressed four major points: Recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault; Identify situations in which sexual assault may occur; Intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given; and Create an environment which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. These four points should be instilled on the minds of college students.
Increasing reports of rape and sexual crime on New Jersey college campuses have been a result of cultural changes that encourage the reporting of incidents and provide comprehensive victims assistance and services. However, one in five women continues to experience some form of sexual assault in college, and the overwhelming majority of incidents of rape occur in student housing. Colleges with a lower number of reports, considering population size, does not necessarily indicate a lower number of assaults, rather the assaults are not being disclosed or the university has failed to be transparent. Rutgers continues to stand out as a school taking the lead on efforts to curb sexual assault.
The Trump administration and the Department of Education’s recent withdrawals of Obama-era guidance recommendations on responding to sexual assault will ultimately inhibit our efforts at resolving this issue. By backtracking to standards that require clear and concrete evidence, rather than a preponderance of evidence set forth by the previous administration, victims will feel that they might not be believed, that they do not have sufficient proof, that the outcome will fail to rectify their trauma, or that they could even be blamed for their own assault.
As an assemblywoman, I have supported peer educational programs for campuses aimed at providing students with information on sexual assault, dating violence, same-sex violence, stalking, bullying and peer harassment. I have advocated for the notification by universities of reports of sexual assault to the county prosecutor within 24 hours of their obtainment or face civil penalty. I have pushed for universities to provide and distribute their individual sexual assault allegations and statistics on their websites and to prospective, as well as current, students. I am deeply aware of the disproportionate effects of sexual assault on women and the LGBTQ community and have promoted the development of a “Campus Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights.”
Our children, nieces and nephews enter college with high aspirations and visions of their future success only to be confronted with the sexual assault of their peers or themselves, most often within their freshman year. I will continue to fight for all colleges to maintain an environment that does not tolerate sexual assault and works towards its end.
Assemblywoman Nancy J. Pinkin