New York City

Cuomo announces new sexual assault policy for SUNY campuses

October 2, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
SUNY Chairman Carl McCall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and special advisor Linda Fairstein.
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that the State University of New York (SUNY) will put in place a set of uniform practices to combat sexual assaults on SUNY campuses.

He made the announcement at a trustee meeting in New York City — the first SUNY trustee meeting ever attended by a governor, according to Board Chairman Carl McCall.

Reported cases of sexual assault and harassment are up at colleges across the country. Almost a quarter of women will experience rape or attempted rape during their four years on campus.

A recent study of SUNY campuses showed that 238 cases of sexual violence and assault and 145 cases of verbal sexual harassment occurred during the 2013-14 academic year, according to AP.

The new resolution, approved by the SUNY board, will establish a uniform definition of sexual consent; give “amnesty” (for crimes like drug use) to those who report sexual crimes; require uniform training of SUNY police; and require notification of a victims bill of rights at campus orientation and when a complaint is filed.

The measure will also inform students of their right to notify either campus police, local police or state police of the crime. Many colleges pressure students to allow schools to handle the crimes internally rather than report it to police.

Cuomo said that fewer than 5 percent of rapes on college campuses are reported to law enforcement.

“It’s the woman’s choice,” Cuomo told the SUNY board of trustees. “Rape is a crime, not subject to college campus policy.”

Cuomo said that it would be advantageous for SUNY to lead in this issue.

A study by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, begun in 2010, found that SUNY was not in compliance with Title IX. Last year, SUNY voluntarily implemented a number of practices in an effort to improve its response to complaints of sex discrimination, including sexual violence and sexual harassment.

To some extent, the practices announced by Cuomo on Thursday echo measures already in place. The Campus SaVE Act, which was passed by Congress in 2013, assures victims of the right to go to local police, get referrals for health care and obtain a fair hearing. Under the act, students must receive assistance from campus authorities if reporting a crime to law enforcement.

The U.S. Legislature has passed the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Marchione. The governor has not yet signed the legislation.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, however, that the resolution would give college officials more tools to combat sexual violence.

“Governor Cuomo’s proposal sends a clear message to college and university officials that they must ensure the safety and safeguard the rights of students who suffer sexual assault on campus,” she said in a statement.

Lori Mould, president of the SUNY Student Assembly and SUNY trustee, said in a statement that students supported Cuomo “in the effort to end sexual violence on campus.”

Trustee Angelo Fatta expressed concern that the measure cover men as well as women, and asked if there was any data about LGBTQ assault on campus. Cuomo said there was data to suggest that while there were some assaults, LGBTQ violence was not as extensive. Another trustee commented that men are less likely to complain about being assaulted than women are.

Trustee Tina Good complemented the measure’s “gender-neutral” tone, and said she hoped  the faculty would have a strong voice in its final shape.

Cuomo said the policy would be tested out on campus and then tweaked if needed.

He also announced that the SUNY Board has appointed Linda Fairstein to serve as a special adviser for the implementation of the policy. Fairstein, a legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence, led the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan for twenty-five years.

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