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A group of Harvard students helped draft legislation, which, if passed by the Massachusetts state legislature, would expand civil protections and counseling to victims of sexual assault.
The 14-page bill specifically calls on the state to provide sexual assault victims a number of resources: tracking information for rape kits to prevent their misplacement or destruction; specialized counselors for victims of sexual assault; and clear information on a victim’s rights to pursue legal action.
Fran F. Swanson ’17, the statewide director for Rise—an advocacy group against sexual assault that also sponsored a similar federal bill— said the group of Harvard students used research from Harvard Law School students and scholars at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Institute of Politics when drafting the Mass. bill.
The group also solicited testimony from Harvard undergraduates; in an email over the Harvard College International Women’s Rights Collective’s list, Brianna J. Suslovic ’16 publicized the bill and asked interested students to submit responses.
On Jan. 13, when the Massachusetts statehouse heard the bill, some Harvard affiliates and undergraduates submitted testimonies, according to Swanson. Former gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley submitted an op-ed in the Boston Herald supporting the bill, writing that she was planning to visit the statehouse to “testify on an issue that I am passionate about: justice for survivors of sexual assault.”
Amanda N. Nguyen ’13, a founder of Rise, said there is a “silence” surrounding the issue of sexual violence, adding that victims of sexual assault and police rarely speak about the crime. Bills such as Rise’s Mass. legislation, Nguyen said, are designed to ensure that how law enforcement responds to sexual assault “doesn’t depend on geography.”
Nguyen said she decided to create the bill in 2014 after noticing what she considered discrepancies in states’ responses to sexual assault. In Massachusetts, labs must generally retain rape kits for up to six months, although the victims may file legal charges long after— for up to 15 years after any crime.
Nguyen said she researched sexual harassment laws after she said she was assaulted while a student at the College.
“I started researching what rights I had, and I tapped heavily into the Harvard network,” Nguyen said, adding that she contacted her professors, colleagues, and friends at Harvard while researching.
Locally, Harvard has faced rampant criticism over how it handles and prevents sexual assault. In 2014, the government found the Law School in violation of the federal anti-sex discrimination law Title IX; a separate probe into the College’s compliance is ongoing. Last fall, the Law School unveiled a new set of Title IX procedures for handling sexual assault that broke from a newly-created University-wide model.
University President Drew G. Faust also called results of recent sexual climate survey “deeply disturbing”; the survey found about a third of senior female undergraduate respondents had experienced some kind of sexual assault during their time at Harvard. As the term drew to a close, dozens of undergraduates rallied outside of Mass. Hall, calling on College administrators allocate more resources towards sexual assault prevention.
—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.
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