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Senator Calls for Support, Transparency for Campus Sex Assault Victims

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Wednesday she has bipartisan support for legislation strengthening support services for victims of sexual assault at colleges and universities. The bill would require additional training for campus staff and greater transparency in reporting incidents of sexual assault. Gillibrand said there would also be stiffer penalties for non-compliance.

"If you are a young woman and you attend college in America, the odds jump that you will be sexually assaulted at school, probably by someone you know, from your classroom, or your dorm, or from a party, or on a sports team," she said at a news conference at her New York City office. SUNY, the nation's largest state university system, has signed on in support of the legislation.

Two women who said they were victims of sexual assault also spoke at the event. One, Emma Sulkowicz, is a student at Columbia University and she said she was raped by another student in her dorm. She said her attacker was not punished and he went on to sexually assault three other women. Sulkowicz said university administrators delayed her case for eight months.

"There are so many survivors who suffer cruelty on encountering their rapists on campus every day that I don't see how our administrators can sleep at night knowing what they've done," she said. Sulcowicz is heading into her senior year at Columbia and she said she's concerned she'll have to graduate along with the man she said raped her.

Anna, a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, said she was sexually assaulted as a freshman. All three of her attackers, she said, were found not responsible — despite evidence of blunt force trauma and abrasions on an official report following her attack.

"No matter who you are in the world, no matter where you come from, no matter how you were raised, we all understand what is right and what is wrong," she said. "It should not matter what you drink or what you wear. That does not give anyone the right to sexually assault you."

Columbia University said it could not comment on specific cases due to federal law. But the university said in a statement that it has added more staff to address sexual assaults on campus, and has instituted mandatory training for undergraduates on sexual violence. Hobart and William Smith Colleges did not respond to WNYC's request for comment.

Gillibrand said she hoped to bring her bill to the floor for a vote next month, and said she's confident it will pass. In March, Gillibrand lost a fight to change the way sexual assault crimes are handled in the military, when legislation she sponsored fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate.

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