New Hampshire’s comprehensive campus sexual assault legislation serves as template to other states

  • Every Voice Coalition co-founders John Gabrieli and Ivy Lee speak at the Every Voice summit at Harvard Law School on Feb. 23, 2019. Courtesy of John Gabrieli

Monitor staff
Published: 2/21/2021 4:28:16 PM

A comprehensive New Hampshire law passed last year relative to sexual assault in institutions of higher education that provides additional protections and services to victims is now serving as an inspiration to activists in other states who are looking to enact similar legislation.

Andrew Echols, a junior at New Mexico State University, became involved in New Mexico’s Every Voice branch just a few weeks before the legislation passed in New Hampshire last June, and he said seeing that happen was a big motivator.

“That was a big energizing moment of realizing like, ‘wow, this is something that couple happen in my state, this is something we could do for our community,’ ” Echols said.

A similar bill about sexual violence on college campuses to the one passed in New Hampshire was filed in the New Mexico state legislature in January.

The success of New Hampshire’s bill – one of the most comprehensive in the country to fill gaps in federal Title IX protections – was largely due to the efforts of New Hampshire students who partnered with local advocacy organizations to push for its passage. The students are part of a volunteer-run organization called the Every Voice Coalition, that now exists in several states.

“Just by passing the bill, New Hampshire has sent a loud, clear message that ‘we believe you, we hear you, survivors’ voices matter, students’ voices matter,’ ” said John Gabrieli, one of the founders of Every Voice. “I think that’s a message that will reverberate across the country and certainly we hope set off a domino effect a tidal wave of state changes that are going to put those same protections in place all over the country.”

New Hampshire passed its “Every Voice” bill during the last legislative session with bipartisan support against seemingly unlikely odds during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, colleges and universities are working to implement the law, which has the potential to impact students far beyond the Granite State.

Many victim advocates said the federal changes from former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos left gaps as a result of fewer protections guaranteed to survivors, and New Hampshire’s bill was crafted to provide greater protections for survivors at the state level where it isn’t specified. The Federal guidelines have a focus on equitable process, while New Hampshire’s “Every Voice Bill” focuses on the campus survivor experience. However, the state bill doesn’t directly contradict the federal guidelines.

“This legislation was intentionally written in a way that’s meant to be as flexible as possible so that if schools already found solutions, it’s not going to require duplicative efforts or destroy progresses made,” Gabrieli said. “It is meant to be flexible so that it sets a floor, not a ceiling, for what campuses can do and gives schools a degree of autonomy in how they input these protections.”

What the law does

One thing the new law requires is memorandums of understanding between colleges and local rape crisis centers so survivors can access free, confidential off-campus support. While many schools already have partnerships like this, the new legislation codifies it.

“It is taking the experiences here in New Hampshire and a lot of best practices that a lot of campus have established and unifying them, so that all campuses are taking a unified response,” said Pamela Keilig, public policy specialist for the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “Especially around the climate survey and making sure training and resources are the same.”

Another new requirement is data collection, through the creation of a state-wide anonymous campus climate survey that will be administered to college and university students biannually, in the hopes of gathering more info on the issue. The state of New Hampshire has been commissioned with assembling a task force to create the survey questions that will be rolled out to colleges and universities.

The governor’s office is currently in the process of selecting the task force members, and they plan to begin work in early March, according to the Department of Education.

Deirdre Loftus, Title IX coordinator at Keene State College, said she is looking forward to seeing mandatory climate surveys implemented in New Hampshire, having worked with them previously in New York.

“The climate surveys are great on the individual campus level, it gives you a much better idea of what is going on your institution that your reporting numbers do,” Loftus said. “More broadly, a statewide initiative like this that has consistency in the questions will give you a better idea of where you are as a collective of New Hampshire schools.”

‘Important information’

Sharon Potter is a UNH professor and executive director of research at UNH’s Prevention Innovations Research Center, focusing on sexual violence prevention and response strategies. Potter said surveys can be a very effective tool for data collection.

“If the questions are good and it’s administered well, where everybody in the population has the same chance of being reached by the survey so you do get a representative sample of the students on the campus, it can really provide administration with a lot of important information about their institution, about the experience their students are having,” Potter said. “It also enables them to asses if their prevention and response plans are working.”

Potter also said schools who use incentives, like gift cards or raffles, to encourage students to fill out the surveys tend to get better response rates. Having respected campus figures, like the institution’s president, encourage them to take it helps too.

“I think people are inundated with surveys,” Potter said. “So incentives really matter. The more that people the students respect encourage students to do a survey, the more effective it is. The voice of administration really matters.”

The bill also establishes a requirement for sexual violence prevention training for students and staff, and confidential advising for survivors. The bill ensures amnesty protection so students who report sexual assaults will not be at risk of punishment for drug or alcohol use, which advocates worry could discourage reporting.

Template for change

“For so long, there has been such a stigma around survivors coming forward, with victim blaming,” Gabrieli said. “We have victims and survivors even today, coming forward and being asked what they were wearing, what they were drinking, potentially even facing disciplinary consequences if they were drinking or using drugs.”

Implementation looks different on each campus, based on the structures that were already in place. Kathryn Kiefer, coordinator for the N.H. Campus Consortium Against Sexual and Interpersonal Violence at the N.H. Attorney General’s office, has been working to help colleges and universities with that process.

“We are working on planning the implementation, so that campuses will have some resources in terms of internally, where the campus is at, where they need to be, how they need to get there and how everyone can resource-share with each other on how to get there,” Kiefer said.

At Keene State, Loftus said most of the shifts they’ve had to make are behind-the-scenes operations, adhering to time frame obligations for hearings and providing students with advisors for the cross-examination process.

“I did not find it difficult, in our policy review for the sexual misconduct policy, to be compliant with both the Every Voice Bill and the Title IX Final Rule,” Loftus said. “There were components of both that enhanced each other, and there were bits of the Title IX Final Rule that the Every Voice Bill enhanced.”

Becca Lawrence, Title IX coordinator for Southern New Hampshire University, said the university was already doing quite a few of the bill’s requirements. She said they’re using federal guidance this year around the hearing process, including cross-examination rules. They are using the state guidance to facilitate new relationships with outside crisis and advocacy centers.

“Law is law, so we implement what we have to implement, each institution has to find what works best for their student body,” Lawrence said. “For us, having such a large online population, we think about virtual hearings and things like that we are thinking about how to implement federal guidelines on that manner. We are so large we have a lot of technology we can use to leverage.”

Elizabeth Cook, a senior at Augustana College in Illinois, said seeing the bill pass in New Hampshire last summer was “inspiring,” and added that New Hampshire’s success has the potential to impact movement in her state.

“Knowing that is something that has been passed in other places, knowing that this is important to people across the country and it can be brought to Illinois as well, will definitely have an impact on how credible our organization is and how important as well,” Cook said.

Massachusetts passed a similar campus sexual violence bill in January, that includes MOUs with rape crisis centers, amnesty policy for those who report and a campus climate survey, similar to New Hampshire’s provisions. Similar bills were filed in Connecticut and Hawai’i this year.

“Every state is different, we don’t believe in one-size fits all legislation. However there are certain basic things that all students a nd all survivors should have access to,” Gabrieli said. “Obviously one day we’d love to see that become a federal norm and we’re hoping that states like New Hampshire can lead the way by implementing these kinds of comprehensive policies and demonstrating the impact this will have on students and survivors in our state.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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