In 2017, a 12-member task force then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie convened two years earlier to gauge how to curtail sexual assault at college campuses unveiled an ambitious to-do list on what universities can do to actually reach that goal.
On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed a measure that would create a new 12-member body to continue the task force’s work, called the Campus Sexual Assault Commission.
Senate Bill 778 calls for Murphy to select five of the picks, which would include representatives from each of the state’s county colleges, one of the state’s public and another of the state’s private universities.
The ranking Democratic and Republican in both the Senate and Assembly will each pick a member, at least one of whom must be a campus sexual assault survivor.
“As we continue to pass policies to ameliorate campus sexual assault, it is equally important we track the impact of those policies and look for ways to improve upon them,” the legislation’s main sponsor, Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-31st District, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, said last year.
Roughly 20 percent of undergraduate women have been the victims of sexual assault, most of them in their first year of college, according to the task force’s June 2017, 39-page report. The group unveiled recommendations split into nine areas that universities could adopt to stop sexual assault.
The newly created commission has 60 days to organize all its members and three years to draw up a new report determining whether any of the polices were effective.
“This commission will allow us to ensure accountability and consistency for how the colleges in New Jersey are addressing and responding to sexual assault,” Cunningham added.
The report highlights that while alcohol is often involved in sexual violence cases, it alone is not the root cause, and a ban would do nothing to end it. Such a move, according to the report, would be “an ineffective prohibition that students will easily circumvent.”
‘College is too late’
“[S]exual assault is a result of ingrained behaviors and unacceptable culture norms,” the report reads. “Better education and awareness, sharing of information and the promotion of safe behavior would all be far more effective,” according to the report.
The task force recommended that students learn about sexual violence in middle and high school, arguing that “college is too late to begin such education.”
Moreover, the task force recommends that victims and the accused receive “equal representation” and that students know where they can confidentially report that they have been the victim of sexual violence.
Victims and students should have much easier access to university resources about mental health and legal services, to help with the legal process, according to the report.
Universities should conduct “campus climate surveys” every three years among students, which would gauge how they feel about the “campus response processes, experiences of sexual violence victimization” and “bystander efficacy.”
Colleges and universities were encouraged under the report to take part in their county’s Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART). To that end, county prosecutors across the state began holding town halls on college campuses.
“The message that I want these survivors to hear is this: there are prosecutors across the state and investigators working with them who dedicate their lives to prosecuting cases like yours and pursuing justice for survivors like you,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement last March.