House Passes Campus Sexual Misconduct Climate Bill

Representative Mike Connolly recently joined his Cambridge and Somerville colleagues in the House to vote in favor of H.4810An Act requiring sexual misconduct climate surveys at institutions of higher education.

"I am proud to vote in support of this bill to help address the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses here in the Commonwealth," Rep. Connolly said. "With this bill, we will gather the information necessary to hold colleges and universities accountable and allow for the implementation of evidenced-based policies to better protect our students from sexual misconduct on campus. I am also pleased the bill was amended to require colleges give the survey every two years, further strengthening accountability and allowing us to track what I believe are necessary cultural improvements on campus," Rep. Connolly added.

This legislation puts Massachusetts on the front lines of the nationwide fight against sexual assault with two key actions. First, it would create a task force comprised of stakeholders from government, higher education, and advocacy groups, who would be charged with employing best practices to craft a climate survey to be used on all campuses. Second, it would mandate that all of our colleges and universities conduct the survey on campus biennially, and return their findings to the task force, which would then create a report on sexual assault on Massachusetts’ campuses.

With that data, policymakers will identify trends and craft policy responses to solve problems. For example, rural college students may point to a lack of easily accessible rape crisis centers, while other campuses may display a lack of understanding of techniques such as bystander intervention. This bill would clarify these rules and ensure that those who live in the state get the highest credits.

The model survey must protect confidentiality for respondents, and universities will not be required to report results broken down by demographics unless there is a reasonable sample size.

All colleges and universities in the Commonwealth would have to administer the survey to their students at least every two years, and publish summaries of the results online. Schools would be able to use their own survey instead of the model survey as long as it is approved by the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Sexual assault on college and university campuses remains a pervasive problem, threatening not only our students’ education, but their safety. The severity of the problem is compounded by a lack of data. No state in the country has a comprehensive approach to gathering information from students on the sexual assault climate on their campuses.

A research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice found that 1 in 4 college women and 1 in 16 college men will be the victims of an attempted or completed rape during their years at college and more than one-third of women at colleges will experience sexual harassment.

Studies conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate that less than 10% of victims report their rape to outside authorities. Due to the lack of reporting, the American Medical Association has described sexual assault as the “silent epidemic” that impacts millions of Americans.

Rep. Connolly would like to thank his colleagues, espeically the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Lori Ehrlich, for her leadership in championing this bill, as well as the Every Voice Coalition, Jane Doe Inc. and the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center for their advocacy.

The Bill now goes before the Senate for consideration.