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HARRISBURG (Erie News Now) – This week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a four-bill package to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
The package seeks to strengthen protections for students and combat sexual assaults on campuses.
“Sexual assault and harassment are simply unacceptable. We cannot accept a culture in our colleges, in our Commonwealth, that allows sexual violence to continue,” said Wolf in a press conference on Monday.
Gov. Wolf said progress has been made thanks to previous legislation he signed in 2019 as part of his “It’s On Us PA” statewide campaign.
“We have made a lot of progress in combating sexual violence and harassment in schools, but we need to do more to ensure all of our students are safe,” said Gov. Wolf. “These four legislative proposals are the next step to preventing assaults and violence and ensuring victims get the help they deserve,” he added.
The first step of the four proposals is requiring colleges and universities to adopt “Yes Means Yes” affirmative consent standards. Different than the “No Means No” slogan often echoed across college campuses.
“If you think about it, it puts the burden for denying consent on the victim,” said Gov. Wolf when explaining his support of “Yes Means Yes” as opposed to “No Means No.”
Senate Bill 730 and House Bill 1489 are the vehicles for affirmative consent standards in both chambers, respectively.
The second focuses on strengthening protections for victims of crime on campuses via SB 909, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Steve Santarsiero and HB 1699, sponsored by Republican Rep. Karen Boback.
The third proposal would prepare and educate middle and high school students to recognize and prevent dating violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking with SB 785 and HB 1490.
And fourth, Senate Resolution 122 and House Resolution 108 would create a task force to study sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking in grades 6-12 and post secondary institutions to better understand students’ experiences and improve response efforts.
In addition to passing these four proposals, advocates say it’s also important to be aware of who is most at risk on college campuses, especially this time of the semester.
“More than 50% of all of the sexual assaults that will occur during the school year happen between the time when students arrive on campus for freshman move-in day and when they leave for Thanksgiving break,” said It’s On Us Executive Director, Tracey Vitchers.
Vitchers says freshmen, and sophomores who learned virtually last year, are more at risk this year than in years past.
“Combine two classes of students who are new to campus with returning juniors and seniors who are anxious to make up lost time partying and socializing with friends, and colleges have a crisis of sexual assault on their hands,” added Vitchers.
“It’s On Us” was founded as an initiative during the Obama-Biden Administration in 2014. Since then, it has become a movement and a national non-profit organization dedicated to college sexual assault prevention and survivor support.
Since 2014, It’s On Us has held over 6,000 educational programs on hundreds of college campuses in all 50 states. 440,000 people have taken their “It’s On Us Pledge” to stop sexual assault, according to their website.
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