New Jersey Lawmakers Advance Campus Sexual Assault Bills

By John Celock

New Jersey lawmakers advanced a package of three bills Thursday designed to address campus sexual assault issues.

The state Senate Higher Education Committee approved bills that would require a victim centered training approach for college officials who deal with survivors, posting on sexual assault data online and providing sexual assault victims with advocates. The legislation comes as the issue of campus response to sexual assault continues to gain national attention. The bills now head to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

“A survivor centered response gives a survivor options through all steps after a trauma,” Patricia Davenport, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told lawmakers.

Under the terms of the bills, campuses would need to provide students who are survivors of sexual assault with the option of having an advocate appointed for them. The advocate would assist the victim through the process of reporting to law enforcement and dealing with the aftermath of the assault. Davenport suggested that the sexual assault prevention group in each county serve as a point of contact for finding advocates.

The package also contains a bill that would require colleges in New Jersey to post sexual assault data on their website, along with providing paper copies of the data to all applicants. The third bill would require that college employees who work with victims of sexual assault to receive victim centered training.

Several campus leaders came forward to question the training procedures advocated by Davenport, which would place the county based organizations of her group in charge of the training. Paul Sell, the police chief at Montclair State University and Karen Pennington, Montclair State University’s top student affairs official, said that the process would be onerous for colleges due to training the trainers.

Pennington noted that with a variety of federal laws governing campus sexual assault procedures, along with campus based policies, the university would first need to provide that training to the county group, who would then come in and provide training to other employees. She was suggesting a campus based training program instead.

“They are not trained with what we do on college campuses,” Pennington told the committee. “We’ll have to train.”

She noted that the colleges would need to spend time and money on the training.

Sell suggested putting together a working group of campus officials to develop plans.