Bill addresses sexual assault

A proposal at the state Capitol would modify sexual assault policies on campuses statewide.

by Logan Wroge

State lawmakers are looking to reform sexual assault policies at colleges and universities across Minnesota this year.

Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, introduced legislation earlier this month that would broaden current policy to include more protection for victims and establish an agreement with local law enforcement on how to investigate these types of crimes.

Other proposed changes would require private colleges and schools within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to provide sexual assault training for faculty members, create an anonymous online reporting tool and report sexual assault data to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

“The goal of this legislation is really to have a victim-centered approach and make certain that institutions of higher education are taking sexual assault on campus seriously,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, one of the bill’s co-authors.

While a companion bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate, the House’s version has already garnered the support of 20 lawmakers, including Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who represents part of the University of Minnesota area.

O’Neill said sexual assault on college campuses is an issue legislators from both sides of the aisle are looking to address this year.

“If you look at the priorities of the session, this is one of the top five priorities, I believe, from both caucuses to get done,” O’Neill said.

A survey conducted by Boynton Health Service in 2013 found that 24.2 percent of females at higher education institutions across the state had experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetimes. For males, 4.6 percent had experienced this type of crime during their lives.

Although the Legislature can’t require the University to follow these changes due to its constitutional autonomy, it would be requested to follow them, O’Neill said.

The Minnesota Student Association has been involved in crafting the bill’s language, said the group’s president, Joelle Stangler.

She said MSA has made suggestions it would like to see added to the bill, including a yearly review of institutional sexual consent policies.

This academic year, MSA has been pushing for an affirmative consent guideline to be put in place at the University, as well as stricter minimum sanctions for perpetrators.

Stangler said a yearly review of consent policies would hopefully prompt most institutions to create an affirmative consent standard.

MSA’s proposed consent change would require confirmation before engaging in sexual activities. Previous relationships or prior sexual activity would not imply consent under the proposed policy redefinition.

Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center, said the University is in compliance with many of the bill’s proposed requirements already.

“I think that our institution always tries to be cooperative with law,” Eichele said. “We would have to look at all aspects of the bill to make sure that they would be applicable to us.”

In April, the University will take part in a national survey of 60 higher education institutions to address the current sexual assault climate on campuses, Eichele said.