Ground-Breaking New Law Against Campus Sexual Assault Introduced By NY Gov Andrew Cuomo

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College sexual assault is an extremely serious issue that has been part of the collective consciousness in America over the past few years. According to statistics, it is estimated that the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions may be between 20% and 25% over the course of a college career. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 rapes per year, but the number of those rapes actually reported is extremely low.

In 2014 the Obama Administration introduced a task force designed to raise awareness of this issue called ‘Not Alone’ which is part of the ‘It’s On Us’ initiative that encourages everyone, not just victims or perpetrators, to be part of the solution in reporting sexual assault crimes.

Since 2013, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who took over former NY Senator Hillary Clinton’s seat when she left in 2009 to become the Secretary of State under President Obama, has been championing bills to increase penalties against certain types of sexual assaults including military assault and on college campuses. Together with Republican representatives Ted Cruz and Rand Paul she co-sponsored a bill that would enable military sexual assault cases to be dealt with in civilian courts. The bill failed but Senator Gillibrand kept on fighting.

In 2015 she co-sponsored the Campus Accountability and Safety Act and asked “mattress activist” Emma Sulkowicz to attend the State Of The Union address with her to promote this important bill. It called for colleges to adopt tougher standardized processes for dealing with sexual assault.

Emma Sulcowicz is the activist who was raped while she studied at Columbia University, and while her attacker has not been prosecuted and may never will, Emma has been literally carrying around a mattress every day on campus and even on her graduation day in protest against the University’s failure to deal with this issue and defend her as a victim. Her story has made headlines and divided many, but her case is not an isolated one by any means.

If you saw the documentary ‘The Hunting Ground’ (do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven’t yet) you would be familiar with the ugly epidemic that is college sexual assault. The feature-length docu detailed many girls from around the country attending various colleges who had been raped or sexually assaulted and were told to either keep it quiet, or deterred from reporting it. These stories and increased visibility of the failure of colleges to protect their students has made many say “enough is enough!”.

Well now there is some good news to report out of the state of New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo (whose sister Maria Cuomo Cole co-produced ‘The Hunting Ground’) has signed into law a bill called ‘Enough is Enough‘ which defines consent, forces colleges to better deal with these incidents, and also ensures the issue of sex is examined in more detail by students in the state.

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This important piece of legislation was introduced by Governor Cuomo in January and since then he has been promoting the heck out of it by enlisting the help of a few celebrity friends along the way, including Lady Gaga. In early June, both Gaga and the Gov co-authored an article published on Billboard.com just before the bill was passed prior to the 2015 legislative session coming to a close.

They both talked about how state colleges across New York had already adopted measures to better prosecute and protect victims from sexual assault, but new state-wide legislation would allow both state and private colleges to adopt these important measures.

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“We have a responsibility to the young men and women of this country to stand up against sexual violence everywhere. Everyone – from lawmakers and educators to advocates like Born This Way Foundation and the students themselves – need to join forces on this issue. Together, we must create the scaffolding necessary to foster the mental, emotional, and physical health of all young people,” they wrote.

“Too many college students experience sexual assault, too few of the assailants are prosecuted, and too often the survivors lack the resources they need to recover. In New York, fewer than five percent of rapes that occur on college campuses are reported to law enforcement and just 16 percent of survivors receive support from a victim services agency,” they continued.

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“A 2010 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that just a quarter of the individuals responsible for sexual assault were permanently removed from campus – and in some cases, that figure was as low as 10 percent. The likelihood that college students are not getting the assistance and support they deserve is heartbreaking, and the knowledge that sexual predators are left free to attack again is criminal. This bill will tackle this crisis head-on, because the status quo needs to change.”

No surprise then that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was one of the members of New York’s House delegation to sign in support of the Enough is Enough bill.

“At the federal level we must flip the current incentives of a broken system to provide real accountability from higher education institutions and end sexual violence on college campuses,” she said in a statement.

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What’s also unique about this bill is that it has bi-partisan support from both Republican and Democrat representatives showing the public that this is not a liberal vs conservative issue, it is a basic human rights issue that lawmakers together want to tackle so that female college students are given the same treatment that start football players are in cases where their celebrity-like status is favored over the possibility that they have committed a sex crime against a fellow student (Google Jameis Winston rape scandal or watch ‘The Hunting Ground’ to get familiar with this ugly phenomenon).

“As the Governor, and as a father, I am proud that with this legislation New York will become a national leader in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses. This action is a major step forward to protect students from an issue that has been plaguing schools nationwide for far too long. Once again, New York is setting the standard for other states to follow, and I look forward to signing this legislation into law as soon as possible,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement after the bill passed.

His comment on NY setting the standard isn’t an exaggeration. They are now only the second state in the country to pass an explicit sexual assault college campus like this. In 2o14 California became the first. How sad that only 2 out of 50 states in the country think this is an issue worth tackling.

The major aspect of the bill is that is defines a statewide definition of “affirmative consent”, something that has been a huge grey area when it comes to prosecuting rape cases on college campuses. It is the very reason Jameis Winston has not been arrested for his alleged rape case in the state of Florida where he was studying and playing football, as he declared the girl’s body language and expressions.

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The bill also requires all campuses to distribute a so-called bill of rights to students, reports the New York Times. It will inform students that they can report sexual assaults either to campus police or to outside law enforcement, and that in that context they will be granted immunity for certain campus rule violations, including drug use.

Under the new Enough is Enough legislation, it will establish a “sexual assault victims unit” within State Police that will work with college campuses to better prosecute sexual crimes that occur on their grounds.

It puts both perpetrators and college campus officials on notice. It allows students and victims to know they finally have some legislative power and help to get justice for sexual assault cases.

Defining consent is a huge step forward and we are encourage that campus sexual assault is not just a regular news headline. Thanks to documentaries like ‘The Hunting Ground’ and lawmakers, celebrities and everyday activists speaking out, it has turned into an offensive against a crime that has festered in our college campuses for way too long and not been dealt with the right way.

You can watch Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement about ‘Enough is Enough’ in the video below:

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