Local college students taking fight against sexual assaults to State House

The college school year has begun which means students are officially in the "red zone," the time period where a majority of sexual assaults happen. But at Boston University, the students have been fighting back against these red zone statistics.

And they're doing it with red letters.

Boston University is the first of what will be several schools writing to state legislators to make college campuses safer both before and after a sexual assault.

If you went past the small booth on the Boston University campus too fast, you may have missed it. But behind every pen, paper and person at the crowded table was a story.

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"I cannot name one woman that I know that is either not been sent an inappropriate picture, heard [an] inappropriate comment, been assaulted, been harassed or at least know someone who has," said Madi Mafi, a BU sophomore. "Even a lot of the men we talk to […] the same thing."

Those students will be sending hundreds of personal stories and letters to the State House. They’re asking the government to expedite the passing of two bills that would minimize sexual assaults on campus.

"I said that I'm an incoming freshman at Boston College and I want my environment to be safe because that was one of my main concerns," said Leena Ahmed.

The bills would collect climate surveys to increase transparency, offer confidential advising for survivors, provide training for all students and staff, give free access to treatment and counseling, and provide amnesty for victims.

"We've done letter writing, we’ve done phone banking, done testimony at the State House and the specific campaign is focused on the idea of the 'red zone,' which is unfortunately more than half of sexual assault happened between when school starts and Thanksgiving break," said John Gabrieli, the co-chair of the Every Voice Coalition.

Current and former students say they've been pushing for this legislation for five years.

"These bills will at least an empower the students," said Pratik Sarkar, a PHD student at BU.

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Students say the legislation gets caught in legal red tape after the House and Senate could not reach a consensus.

"I know folks, so they have been at this for five years, but I did not get a phone [from] the chair [of] this committee until February of this year," said Representative Jeff Roy. "So I’ve only had about six months to look at it, but I am doing my due diligence and I am very much wanting to get something to the House floor as soon as possible."

"It's pretty common sense," Mafi said. "Everyone knows this is a good thing, it's just hard with the way democracy works to get this passed into law."

As far as a timeline of when the legislation could pass, Representative Roy said there are too many moving parts to know, but he expects to get regulations on the legislation issued by Betsy Devos in the next two months and then move to pass it through the House.

More than a dozen other schools will join in on this campaign in the next couple of weeks. So far, in addition to BU, the following other campuses are also scheduled to host red zone letter-writing events:

  • Amherst
  • Mount Holyoke
  • Holyoke Community College
  • Smith College
  • UMass Amherst
  • Holy Cross
  • UMass Lowell
  • Northeastern
  • UMass Boston
  • Boston College
  • Brandeis
  • Babson
  • Tufts
  • Harvard