BOSTON — The legislature’s session ends Friday, but police reform isn’t the only thing on their agenda. They’re discussing another important bill that would protect the rights of college students fearing sexual assaults if and when they go back to campus.
“I had too many conversations with friends who have been through these traumatic experiences and were not able to access justice through our existing systems and felt powerless,” said John Gabrieli, Executive Director of the Every Voice Coalition.
Gabrieli says college students aren’t just concerned about COVID19 this fall, but the red zone. The period between when school starts and Thanksgiving when a majority of sexual assaults happen, often to the most marginalized and vulnerable people.
Last September, Boston 25 brought to you the story of when students at Boston University and several other schools wrote hundreds of personal stories and letters to state legislators to expedite the student and survivor-written Every Voice Bill. They’ve been working to pass it for almost six years in Massachusetts, but students in New Hampshire didn’t have to go through as much red tape to get Governor Baker to pass it last week.
“I think it took about seven or eight months which is awesome,” said Dartmouth rising junior Sophia Miller.
If the Massachusetts legislature doesn’t pass it by Friday, students fear this school year could be particularly troubling. That’s when Betsy DeVos’ rollback of Title IX protections for survivors goes into effect.
Students say those new regulations will narrow the sexual assault definition, force some survivors to face cross-examination from their perpetrators, and cut investigations into sexual violence by half.
“You have to make a report and reporting to title IX doesn’t always trigger a formal investigation,” said Miller. “That is usually another step. It is definitely a barrier.”
However, this new responding bill would:
1. Free access to medical and legal support services
2. Anti-retaliation protections for reporting parties
3. Confidential advising services that clarify survivors' rights & options
4. Transparent data on sexual violence
5. Universal, evidence-based prevention and response training
"After 6 years of advocacy, we've made a lot of progress," said Gabrieli. "Our bills have been endorsed by every rape crisis center in the state, 16 leading researchers and law professors from across the country, more than a dozen key non-profits from Mass Equality to Planned Parenthood, Congresswoman Pressley, the Boston Globe, and the 140,000 supporters who have signed our petition - and two-thirds of the House of Representatives have co-sponsored the bill, but we haven't been able to get the legislation to the Governor's desk."
We reached out to the senate president and speaker of the house to ask why, despite the support, it still hasn’t passed. We have not yet heard back.
Every Voice bills have also been filed in three other states: Connecticut, Hawaii, and Illinois. The coalition is set to file new bills this upcoming session in Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, and Virginia.