Legislative leaders in Albany announced they reached a deal on how to deal with sexual assaults on college campuses, but I wanted to share with you this timely op-ed about why their plan, while well intended, falls short. Please take a moment to read. Thanks!
View: ‘Enough is Enough’ falls short
With only days left in the state legislative session, it is the hope of many in the sexual assault victims advocate community that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Enough is Enough” campus sexual assault legislation does not pass in its current form.
For all the purported directives (call this hotline! visit this website!), the governor’s bill fails to set forth a concise roadmap for victims and essentially leaves them with more questions than answers.
Colleges – and students – deserve better. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s recently proposed four-point plan offers real guidance for students and colleges alike. First, it provides for an independent advocate for all victims of sexual assault on a college campus by requiring colleges to enter into formal agreements with state-certified rape crisis agencies. The key word here is “independent” – so that a student can receive guidance and counsel from someone with no ties to the school, and who has only the victim’s best interests at heart. This service is already available to victims of sexual assault in Westchester County.
Astorino’s proposal also requires college officials to report knowledge of an alleged rape or other felony sexual assault to local police immediately. This allows police – not college officials – to investigate violent crimes occurring on a college campus, just as they do in the “real world.” Predictably, some have taken issue with this mandated reporting requirement. The governor’s spokeswoman, Dani Lever, even went so far as to claim that this proposal violated federal law. That’s simply an erroneous claim. In our extensive research and communication with state and federal officials, we were consistently informed that mandated reporting is consistent with applicable federal law and other states have adopted similar reporting.
“Rape” and “sexual assault” are violent felonies. They are serious crimes that should be investigated by police. To make sure that law enforcement provides the best possible response, Astorino calls for incorporating the “Start by Believing” curriculum into police training, again something that the Westchester County Police Academy is doing already.
The final point in Astorino’s plan is a Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights that addresses protocols on rape kits and exams, and interactions with the colleges, police and victim advocates.
Campus personnel are simply ill-equipped to adjudicate crimes and should not be required to do so. Let the police do their jobs and give them the tools to do it well.
Finally, the backbone of Cuomo’s policy – the notion of “Affirmative consent” – is unworkable and just plain ridiculous. Expecting students to engage in what is essentially a question-and-answer session in any sexual encounter just isn’t practical. And of course, there is the alcohol factor. Intoxication on the part of the victim negates any consent at all. It’s an unworkable new standard that contradicts penal law and it’s the kind of proposal that turns up on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, not something that could ever work in the dorm rooms of universities. We want fair outcomes for all parties, and affirmative consent makes this nearly impossible.
Gov. Cuomo deserves credit for his focus on the critically important issue of sexual assault on campus. County Executive Astorino’s plan takes those good intentions and makes them workable in the real world by offering common sense suggestions that will improve the likelihood of success when it comes to the goal we are all striving for: better protections for victims and better odds for justice. We are hopeful that the state legislature will be guided by its key points if they are to act this month.
About the writers
• Robi Schlaff is director of the Westchester County Office for Women.
• Darlene E. Reda is director of the Westchester County Family Justice Center.