N.H. lawmaker files ‘yes means yes’ sex assault bill

Last modified: 10/8/2014 11:51:04 PM
A lawmaker wants the state’s colleges and universities to adopt “yes means yes” sexual assault policies or risk losing state aid amid rising concerns over sex abuse on campuses across the country.

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, has filed a draft of a bill, modeling his idea off a law recently signed in California. Cushing wants to require schools to adopt sex assault policies that center on affirmative consent, meaning both parties must verbally agree to engage in sexual behavior. Colleges and universities that don’t adopt such policies would lose their state aid or, for private colleges, property tax exemptions.

Sexual assault on college campuses has garnered national attention as students and the federal government demand stricter policies and stronger enforcement. Research has shown one in five women will be sexually assaulted in college, but only about 12 percent of those assaults are reported to the police. In New Hampshire, Dartmouth College is under federal investigation for its handling of sexual assault. The University of New Hampshire has been nationally recognized for its sex assault prevention policies that have focused on affirmative consent for years.

“I don’t think anybody was really happy when a New Hampshire college makes national headlines for concerns over sexual assault on campus, and I think there’s a growing awareness taking place throughout society that sexual assault is a problem,” Cushing said. “What we want to do with this policy is to put a focus on prevention.”

Federal law requires colleges and universities to release annual statistics on reported crime and sexual assaults. UNH reported 15 cases of forcible sexual offenses in 2013, down from 20 the year before, while Dartmouth reported 26, up from 11 in 2012. Dartmouth said the increase was likely because of better reporting.

Affirmative verbal consent is important because it puts responsibility on the person initiating the act to ask for consent rather than making it the responsibility of the victim to say no, said Amy Culp, director of UNH’s Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program. First-year students at UNH must complete and sign an online form about sexual assault policies and the meaning of consent.

Assault cases are handled within the university unless a student wants to pursue criminal charges, Culp said. A student found in violation of the sexual assault policy will be suspended for a minimum of one year and in some cases cannot return to campus until after the victim has graduated, Culp said.

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