New Conn. Law Proposed to Clarify, Make Consistent Campus Sexual Assault Policy at Public, Private Institutions

Two Connecticut legislators who districts include the University of Connecticut are proposing a new law to make clear and consistent campus sexual assault policy. Democrats State Sen. Mae Flexer of Killingly and state Rep. Greg Haddad of Mansfield will announce Friday the new legislation dealing with “affirmative consent.”

Although UConn and Yale have their own such policies, this proposal would require a uniform “affirmative consent” policy at all institutions of higher learning, public and private.

State Sen. Mae Flexer
State Sen. Mae Flexer

State taxpayers footed the bill last summer when UConn paid $1.28 million to settle a lawsuit filed by five students. They alleged that the state’s flagship university had treated their claims of sexual assault and harassment with indifference.

Meanwhile, Yale is part of a massive study on the topic organized by the American of American Universities.

“Every student at a college or university in Connecticut should have the same expectation of safety,” Sen. Flexer said. “A year ago, on a unanimous and bipartisan basis, Connecticut passed new campus sexual assault regulations for all state colleges and universities. That bill required colleges to offer sexual assault prevention programming that defined ‘consent’ in sexual relationships but left it up to each institution of higher education to come up with a definition. What we’re saying today is, let’s be clear, let’s be consistent, and let’s change the conversation from ‘no means no’ to ‘yes means yes’.”

Rep. Haddad says the issue demands attention. “We must ensure that college students understand the absolute necessity of mutual consent. Too often, silence or a lack of outright protest is misunderstood to be consent. This bill rejects that standard and establishes a simpler, smarter and safer ‘yes means yes’ policy on Connecticut’s college campuses,” he said.

The legislators say their bill is modeled on California legislation. That state specifically says that in a disciplinary process, affirmative consent cannot be implied if the complainant was asleep or unconscious; incapacitated due drugs, alcohol or medication or that the complainant was unable to communicate due to a mental or physical condition.

New York has an “affirmative consent law” but it only applies to public colleges and universities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is exploring expanding their law to private institutions as well.

Sen. Flexer says the issue is something that must be dealt with. “We as a society need to engage in these types of ongoing discussions in order to create more understanding, higher expectations and greater safety for young men and women,” Sen. Flexer said. “Hoping that the scourge of campus sex assault will just go away is not an option.”

The bill has been referred to the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.

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