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SUNY adopts system-wide sexual assault policy

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

SUNY has adopted a comprehensive system-wide sexual assault policy for all 64-of its campuses.  WBFO'S Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley says this will include a 'bill of rights' for victims and survivors of campus assaults. 

SUNY has moved forward with a policy  is designed to protect more than 463-thousand students who attend colleges and universities across the state. 

"I think that it is good for SUNY to have a consistent policy. The policies came out are really excellent ones and I think they are going to be a help for all of SUNY," said Sharon Nolan-Weiss, Director of  Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University at Buffalo.

SUNY's Board of Trustees approved a 14-page policy that now deals with a school's response to a sexual assault complaint. This will include a 'bill of rights' for victims and survivors of campus assaults.  

"If the student, for example needs academic accommodations because he or she is having trouble  completing classes -- that's something that we have to do," stated Nolan-Weiss. "It also provides during the student conduct hearing for both parties."

Nolan-Weiss noted the 'bill of rights' ensures that someone who comes forward reporting sexual assault understands they have options.

Nolan-Weiss explain UB's policy already included a disciplinary system in place for students no matter their status .  She expects UB to only tweak what they currently follow.

"So for us, a lot of this is going to be fine tuning," said Nolan-Weiss. "The one area I think that is going to be new for a lot of campuses, including UB, is climate surveys that are going to come about in 2015 and 2016."

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
UB North Campus student housing.

Several months ago a federal investigation was launched into sexual assaults at a number of campuses nationwide.  Most recently a Rolling Stone Magazine article  revealed allegations of a fraternity hazing and sexual assault case.  Nolan-Weiss, who also serves at UB's Title IX coordinator reacted to these on-going cases.

"It's distributing that any campus would have a culture where people would feel that that's acceptable," said Nolan-Weiss.
This policy will include statewide training for campus police and college administrators.  There will also be a uniform confidentiality and reporting protocol.  Governor Andrew Cuomo calls it a 'critical step' to combating the epidemic of sexual misconduct on college campuses.  Cuomo said implementing a uniform policy it will better protect students and communities.

Key points of the policy are as follows:

· Uniform Definition of Consent: The policy includes a system-wide, uniform adoption to define affirmative consent as a clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. The uniform definition is as follows:

“Affirmative consent is a clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent is active, not passive. Silence or lack of resistance cannot be interpreted as consent. Seeking and having consent accepted is the responsibility of the person(s) initiating each specific sexual act regardless of whether the person initiating the act is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Consent to any sexual act or prior consensual sexual activity between or with any party does not constitute consent to any other sexual act. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Consent may be initially given but withdrawn at any time. When consent is withdrawn or cannot be given, sexual activity must stop. Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated. Incapacitation occurs when an individual lacks the ability to fully, knowingly choose to participate in sexual activity. Incapacitation includes impairment due to drugs or alcohol (whether such use is voluntary or involuntary), the lack of consciousness or being asleep, being involuntarily restrained, if any of the parties are under the age of 17, or if an individual otherwise cannot consent. Consent cannot be given when it is the result of any coercion, intimidation, force, or threat of harm.”

· Uniform Amnesty Policy to Encourage Reporting: Students reporting incidents of sexual assault or other sexual violence are granted immunity for drug and alcohol use violations.

· Comprehensive Statewide Training for Campus Police and College Administrators: SUNY, working with the State, will conduct statewide coordinated training with all SUNY campuses, including training by SUNY Police and State Police for campus security on best practices for campus security plans and victim sensitivity, as well as training by SUNY attorneys for college administrators and adjudicators on preventing and addressing sexual violence and how to improve compliance with existing federal laws. All SUNY campuses will also institute uniform training for students at all new student orientations. SUNY Police will begin training all campus police and public safety officers this month.

· Statewide Public Awareness Campaign: SUNY will undertake a statewide public awareness campaign, coordinated with the State, to increase awareness among college students, high school students, and parents of individual safety and prevention techniques as well as the importance of bystander intervention in any unsafe situation.

· Uniform Confidentiality and Reporting Protocol for All SUNY Campuses: To ensure all colleges are following best practices and the same set of standards and protocols are in place on each campus, all SUNY campuses will implement a uniform system-wide Confidentiality and Reporting Protocol. The uniform Confidentiality and Reporting Protocol encourages the prompt and accurate reporting of acts of sexual assault, helps the campus community to quickly respond to allegations of sexual assault, and ensures that students have timely and accurate information about available confidential resources.

· Uniform Campus Climate Assessments: All SUNY campuses will conduct campus climate assessments in order to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness of the issue, and provide colleges/universities with information to help them form solutions for addressing and preventing sexual assault on and off campus.

The SUNY sexual assault policy also creates a Sexual Violence Victim/Survivor Bill of Rights that specifically informs victims of sexual assault of their right to report sexual assault to local, campus or State law enforcement. SUNY policy also outlines how to access campus-specific victim resources, including obtaining a restraining/no contact order and counseling, health, legal and support services. All students will be notified of the Bill of Rights by or before the new term in January 2015. The Sexual Violence Victim/Survivor Bill of Rights includes the right to:

· Have disclosures of sexual violence treated seriously.
· Make a decision about whether or not to disclose a crime or incident and participate in the conduct or criminal justice process free from outside pressures from college officials.
· Be treated with dignity and to receive from College officials courteous, fair and respectful health care and counseling services.
· Be free from any suggestion that the victim/survivor is at fault when these crimes and violations are committed, or should have acted in a different manner to avoid such a crime.
· Describe the incident to as few individuals as practicable and not to be required to repeat unnecessarily a description of the incident.
· Be free from retaliation by the College, the accused, and/or their friends, family and acquaintances.
· Exercise civil rights and practice your religion without interference by the investigative, criminal justice or conduct process of the College.

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