A year ago after high profile campus rapes put sexual assault on the radar, the New Jersey Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault was formed to recommend changes to the way cases are investigated and prosecuted and the way colleges train staff and students to prevent it. Their recommendations came out today, and today Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle introduced a bill providing for a more comprehensive approach to preventing sexual assault beyond college campuses. NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill spoke with her.
Hill: The task force has been studying this issue for a year now. How did you come up with these nine recommendations?
Huttle: Well, first of all I think the recommendations were very important and I want to thank the task force for doing such great work for the past year. But what we need to do now, and I spoke to Sen. Cunningham as well, is to codify the recommendations into law. It’s very timely because as summer is approaching and we have high school graduates entering college, we want to make sure that when they enter college they are safe and they an in an environment where they feel free from sexual assault. And some of these recommendations, quite frankly, I agree with. I mean, when we talk about alcohol on campus, or different types of clothing, that is no excuse for rape. And what we need to do is to educate and inform, not only college students, but I think when you see the recommendations they look at educating students in middle school and high school. So what we try to do here is try and change the culture before they get to college. If you look at the statistics the first year of college, that’s when unfortunately sexual assaults and rape take place. When you look at the LGBT youth and transgender youth, you will see that it is two times higher. So when the recommendations are coming forward as we heard today, we need to codify this and make sure that a college environment is safe. We also, I think it’s important, that when you look at each college, each college is unique, they need to work together and share these findings and they need to use community resources as backup. And again, it’s trying to change the culture before it gets to that part. A rape is a rape, there is no excuse, and I was happy to hear that alcohol and other types of, let’s say tight clothing that they were referring to, is an excuse. There is no excuse for rape. And what I’m happy to hear also about this task force is saying that it’s not just physical, but it’s emotional and that we need to protect the victims. We need to make sure that they’re able to feel comfortable in coming forward for help. Again, it’s primary care before, during and after, unfortunately, but hoping that we can start to attempt to solve an issue that should be resolved for college campuses.
Hill: You want these campuses also to do a climate survey, a climate study. What does that entail?
Huttle: Yes, well that climate survey should take place every couple of years. And what again that is, don’t forget, sexual assault and rape is under-reported because people do not come forward. Most of them are talked out of coming forward because of the climate on campus. This is giving the victims on campus the opportunity to come forward and report it without feeling threatened, without feeling humiliated and with getting the proper support that they need. I also want to emphasize that we’re concerned with, obviously, women coming to college and becoming victims of rape, but we also need to educate our men, and I’m glad that they were mentioned in this survey as well. Again, the climate survey is taking a survey and having them report and share their knowledge with community-based supports so they know where to give help and assistance to the victims.
Hill: Very quickly, what recommendations are you making for the investigative process?
Huttle: Well, let’s say this. I will tell you that the first piece of legislation that I will introduce this summer is the Sexual Prevention Task Force which we will look at how to prevent sexual assault. That I will be doing immediately with my sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Cunningham. But aside from that, we will be working over the summer, again, listening to the recommendations, talking to the stakeholders that were part of this task force and making sure that we codify some of their recommendations, or most of those recommendations, into law by the fall.
Hill: Alright, Ms. Huttle, thank you very much for joining us.
Huttle: Thank you, Michael.