Milford state rep. speaks out on campus sexual assault bill

State Representative Kathy Kennedy (R-District 119) asked that HB 6374 be favorably voted out of committee.

State Representative Kathy Kennedy (R-District 119) asked that HB 6374 be favorably voted out of committee.

CT House Republicans / Contributed photo

MILFORD — College students should be allowed to report sexual assaults without fear of repercussions, according to State Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-119th District. That is especially true of college students.

“That is a big sticking point with me,” Kennedy said. “They must be able to report what happens on college campuses.”

Kennedy recently testified before the Higher Education and Employment Advancement committee in favor of House Bill 6374, a bill that addresses sexual assault on college campuses.

“This bill allows someone who finds themselves in a situation (partying, being under age) to report it without fear of repercussions, possibly being arrested or suspended because they may have been drinking or whatever the case may be,” Kennedy said.

In her testimony, Kennedy sought to put a human face on the issue, relating the experience of a friend when they both were college students.

“Imagine an 18-year old college freshman, she is away from home for the first time, enjoying that first taste of independence,” Kennedy said. “Meeting new friends, partying, drinking, all in good fun until she finds herself in a situation, she never expected to be in.”

The cascade of new experiences sets this young woman’s mind racing, Kennedy said.

“This was not what she expected or wanted. She is questioning the situation in her head. She wishes she had not been drinking,” Kennedy said. “Did she party too much? Was she assaulted? Was it rape?”

In such a situation, victims of sexual assault can blame themselves because they were drinking and underage, she said.

“She is afraid to call her parents. Was it her fault?” Kennedy said. “How would you feel if this were your daughter, granddaughter, niece? It could also happen to your son, grandson, nephew.”

The bill was originally proposed in the Senate two years ago, and the bill got out of committee before COVID-19 halted its progress. The bill died when the session ended.

Among other things, the bill would mandate anonymous sexual misconduct climate surveys on a campus every two years in order to help implement effective policies, and would prohibit those who report campus sexual assaults from being subjected to disciplinary action for violating a campus’ drug or alcohol use policy.

In October, Kennedy met with Every Voice Coalition, whose stated mission is to bring together students, community organizations and universities to combat campus sexual violence. The experience was eye-opening, she said.

“I never heard the term Red Zone before meeting with Every Voice,” Kennedy said. “Red Zone is from August to early November when (sexual assaults) are at their highest.”

The legislation has the support of the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. The group submitted written testimony in favor of HB 6374.

“Having access to these survey results will inform the work that these advocates do every day in preventing sexual violence and advocating for survivors,” the alliance wrote. “In addition to students and advocates, this legislation would be beneficial to colleges and universities. In reviewing responses from these surveys, they will have an opportunity to implement prevention and intervention practices based on the individualized needs of their community.”

The alliance called the bill a natural extension of 2014 legislation aimed at reinforcing awareness, prevention, and response methods regarding intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking on college campuses.

“While the 2014 legislation concentrated on how institutions perceived their campus response to misconduct, it lacked significant feedback from enrolled students about their perceptions, experiences and needs,” the group wrote.

According to Kennedy, in 2018 there were 436 reported assaults and stalking cases reported at Connecticut colleges. But the actual number may be far higher.

“The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that only 5 percent of victims of sexual violence on any college campus in America choose to report their assault to university officials,” she said.

Hearing the testimony were co-chairs Senator Will Haskell and Representative Joshua Elliott, vice-chairs Sen. Mae Flexer and Rep. Gary Turco, and ranking members Sen. Kevin Witkos and Rep. Irene Haines.

Kennedy said at least 20 senators and representatives had co-signed the bill, and she was hopeful it would get voted out of committee.

“This is an important bill and has to pass this time for all college kids,” she said. “Every Voice worked all winter to get this bill ready.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354