Bill Would Impose Fine on Colleges & Universities that Ignore Allegations
(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored to hold colleges and universities accountable for combating sexual assault on campuses was approved 70-3-3 by the Assembly on Monday.
“The days of looking the other way when it comes to sexual assault are over,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Statistics show one in five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses, which means we have a lot of work to do to ensure these allegations are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. This bill is meant to ensure the right approach is taken to these serious allegations.”
The bill (A-2118) requires the Attorney General impose a penalty of up to $50,000 against a higher education institution that fails to appropriately respond to and investigate an allegation of sexual assault made by a student.
The fine would be increased for each repeated violation by the institution, though it cannot exceed $50,000.
“It’s dismaying in this day and age to see allegations of sexual assault minimized or ignored by college officials,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Everyone deserves a learning environment free of fear and intimidation and the security of knowing their rights will be equally protected by their university.”
The bill also requires each institution to communicate to each student at the beginning of the academic year, via regular or electronic mail, its policies and procedures concerning the reporting and investigation of an allegation of sexual assault, and to provide for public inspection on its website the Campus Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights.
The bill comes after the federal government recently disclosed that 55 colleges and universities are under investigation for possibly violating the law in their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.
“The physical and mental scarring from sexual assault can impact a victim for the rest of their life, especially if the incident is not processed properly through the appropriate legal channels,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Victims deserve to know their school is on their side and will do all it can to minimize the trauma.”
Additionally, the Obama administration recently unveiled a plan to crack down on campus sexual assault with increased enforcement and guidance to schools on their legal obligations. A White House task force released a blueprint for strengthening enforcement and providing additional tools to combat the problem, including a new website and funding for research on prevention programs.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.