By PAT EATON-ROBB
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Educators, students and advocates for sex assault victims testified Tuesday before a legislative committee that is considering a bill designed to improve sexual assault policies on Connecticut’s college campuses.
The legislation before the General Assembly’s higher education committee comes in the wake of federal complaints, including a Title IX lawsuit filed last fall, that allege the University of Connecticut responded to recent reports of sexual assaults there with deliberate indifference or worse.
The bill would require that schools establish detailed sexual assault response policies; provide more training for faculty, students and staff in how to prevent and deal with sex assaults; and create more services for victims.
It would mandate state reporting of the accusations at public and private schools in Connecticut; allow victims to make anonymous complaints; and set up trained sexual assault response teams on campuses to aid victims.
“The positive note in all of this today is that we’re here to effect change,” said committee co-chairwoman Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, who noted the legislation has been endorsed by all 54 women in the General Assembly.
Some of the most dramatic testimony came from the mother of a UConn student who described the frustration she had in trying to find help for her daughter, who reported she was sexually assaulted last fall at a fraternity party. The mother, whose name is not being used by The Associated Press to protect the identity of her daughter, said she was transferred to seven offices while looking for someone to help her daughter through the medical, emotional and academic issues she was dealing with.
“It took more than a week to gain access to a rape counselor on campus, and then she was offered a male counselor,” she said.
She also said her daughter was subjected to direct questioning at an administrative disciplinary hearing from the man who attacked her and was told by police that her assailant was “a nice guy.” A UConn spokeswoman noted that the man was later expelled from the university.
Michael Gilbert, UConn’s vice president for student affairs, issued a statement denying “the vast majority of what was asserted” by the girl’s mother.
The school has consistently defended its sexual assault policies and the resources it devotes to the issue. Gilbert and Elizabeth Conklin, the school’s Title IX coordinator, outlined for the committee several changes that have been implemented in the last week. Those include the establishment of a support office that will serve as the single point of contact for sexual assault victims. The school also is offering more student education on preventing sexual assaults, including bystander training, something that is part of the proposed legislation.
The changes were among the recommendations of a task force on civility that was formed in May by UConn President Susan Herbst.
“We believe that the implementation of these recommendations, along with the robust policies and procedures already in place at UConn, demonstrate the university’s commitment to working aggressively to eliminate all forms of sexual violence for our university,” Conklin said.
Officials from several schools expressed some concern about the burden of new mandates. The state’s community colleges, for example, noted they are mainly commuter schools and don’t have the same level of counseling, health or police resources as residential schools.
Others suggested changes to the bill to encourage compliance. State Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said she would like to see financial penalties for institutions that refuse to cooperate with law enforcement investigations into sexual assaults or fail to comply with all sections of the legislation.
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