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Sexual assault legislation under revision after community feedback

Suggested bill would require university reporting of sexual assault, aims to protect survivors

Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Representatives from the State House and R.I. universities have been working together to develop a bill that gives victims greater autonomy.

A bill proposed in January that would require all institutions of higher education in Rhode Island to report incidents of sexual assault to law enforcement will likely undergo significant amendments to give greater autonomy to victims, according to a Feb. 23 press release from the General Assembly. The legislation’s sponsor — Rep. Mia Ackerman, D-Cumberland and Lincoln — met with college and university representatives following the initial proposal to gather community feedback, which led to the incorporation of concerns about privacy rights into the still-developing bill.

In the original Jan. 8 statement, Ackerman expressed confidence in Rhode Island law enforcement as the entity “best able to handle complaints of sexual assault.”

The legislation is currently in the committee stage and will likely undergo significant changes before it reaches a vote. “I think the bill as written is not going to pass and I don’t think there’s interest in it passing, because I think people really want a bill that works well for all sides,” said Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, a co-sponsor of the bill.

“I’m trying to get everyone to the table to have a conversation about this,” Ackerman wrote in the Jan. 8 statement. “I purposely made the bill broad so everyone could come and give us input so Rhode Island can take the lead and become a model for the whole country.”

To gather input for the legislation, Ackerman met Feb. 20 with representatives from Johnson and Wales University, the New England Institute of Technology, Providence College, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University, the University of Rhode Island and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Rhode Island — a group that represents the interests of several colleges in the state, including Brown, Bryant University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

The meeting surfaced concerns surrounding the privacy and rights of survivors — a topic that became a main factor in Ackerman’s planned changes.

“It’s clear that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed publicly — and it needs to be handled delicately — as we all need to be sensitive to the worries and concerns of the victims, who have already endured a severe emotional and physical trauma and have no desire to relive it,” Ackerman said in a Feb. 23 press release.

Rep. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, stressed that creating effective avenues for those seeking legal justice was also an important topic of discussion between Ackerman and the schools. “It seems in large part that there has been a problem with victims who do want to elevate the incident and do want to have a response,” Shekarchi said, adding, “From my perspective it seems like one thing to do is that if a victim has chosen to move ahead, to go ahead and go through the proper channels.”

Regunberg expects to see some clarification of privacy concerns in later iterations of the bill, including which university administrators would have the authority to bring cases to the police, he said.

“It’s a difficult question. On the one hand, we don’t want to be so heavy-handed as to compel colleges to hand over every case to law enforcement, with no regard to the wants and desires of the victim. On the other hand, we also don’t want perpetrators of sexual assault to think there will be no repercussions,” Ackerman wrote in a guest column for GoLocalProv. She could not be reached for comment by press time.

A previous version of this article misattributed the quotes “It seems in large part that there has been a problem with victims who do want to elevate the incident and do want to have a response” and “From my perspective it seems like one thing to do is that if a victim has chosen to move ahead, to go ahead and go through the proper channels” to Al Dahlberg, the University’s AICU representative. In fact, Rep. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, said these quotes. The Herald regrets the error.

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  1. I sincerely believe it all could have been so very different — so much better — between men and women. There may still be hope. See:

    “The Sexual Harassment Quagmire: How To Dig Out”

    This may be the most exhaustive analysis you can find of what I think is the sexes’ most alienating and destructive behavioral difference, which is responsible for much of what is called sexual assault of women.

  2. Imagine how the phi psi case and the sclove case would be different under this new legislation…. Probably for the better.

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