I often say that I experienced sexual violence twice, once through the act of sexual violence and again through the aftermath: denied support, countless instances of victim blaming and disbelief, and a lack of accountability to my perpetrator. While victim blaming is often mistakenly diminished to being an anomaly or an indication of individual ignorance, it is undoubtedly institutionally instigated.
Truthfully, how can sexual violence be taken as seriously when the laws that govern us and the leaders who represent us fail to model such attention and action? Those in leadership positions, whether they be leaders in higher education or our own state legislators, should not undermine how their constituents absorb their institutional inaction on campus sexual violence.
Survivors can come to see their experiences as unworthy of interventions. Individuals may undermine the severity and impact of perpetrating violence, while community members may be complacent in the necessity of intervention and support. This feeds into two persisting epidemics: pervasive campus sexual violence and ubiquitously inadequate aftermaths and responses.
This theme is especially pertinent to inaction around the Every Voice bill, which has sat latent in the Connecticut General Assembly for nearly a year. Initially filed in January 2020 as Senate Bill 19 by Senator Will Haskell, the Every Voice bill seeks to address campus sexual violence in Connecticut through statewide biennial campus climate surveys and statewide amnesty for drug and alcohol violations. Both of these measures are critical to Connecticut’s dire need to address campus sexual violence and to better support students inundated with and sorely limited by this epidemic.
The necessity of this bill arises from a pervasive culture of violence in Connecticut and beyond. Clery Act statistics in Connecticut found that there were 436 reported cases of campus sexual violence in 2018 alone. However, national statistics reveal that more than 90% of campus sexual violence goes unreported, indicating that the actual level of violence is dangerously higher than the statistics portray. In the face of such persistently high violence, the only way forward is onwards. No one piece of legislation can eradicate a form of systemic violence, however the Every Voice bill is a critical next step.
Specifically, the bill’s statewide campus climate surveys provide an opportunity for all students to provide anonymous insights around their experiences with sexual violence and the accessibility of support resources, data necessary for colleges and universities to holistically understand and thus address campus sexual violence. The specific two-year frequency will allow universities and colleges to consistently check in on their resources and their community’s experiences, as well as grant every student (whether they be a graduate student, community college student, transfer student, or traditional four year undergraduate) the opportunity to share their experiences if they so choose. The amnesty policy for drug and alcohol violations dispels yet another source of victim blaming by ensuring that all students can report their experiences with sexual violence without fear of university retaliation. The presence of drugs and alcohol does not invalidate the experiences of a survivor or deem them less worthy of support. Connecticut must codify this basic right into law through amnesty.
As one of the many students invested in the collective movement around the Every Voice bill (HB 6374), I have witnessed the ups and downs of the bill’s trajectory over the past year. In February 2020, I was at the bill’s public hearing before the Joint Committee on Higher Education as the bill received myriad testimonies of support from students and advocates before it subsequently passed unanimously out of the Joint Committee on Higher Education.
In August 2020, 55 legislators signed a bipartisan letter urging leadership to include the bill on the September special session agenda. However, soon after, I and other students watched painfully as the Assembly excluded this critical and well-supported bill from the agenda, neglecting the growing collection of endorsements from student governments, including from the student government of the University of Connecticut.
Yes, our movement is full of victories, collective growth, and accomplishments. However, at the end of the day, only one thing matters to me and many other survivors watching: that this bill is passed into law. Effectively, students remain unsupported and sexual violence continues to wreak havoc on college campuses, while legislators fail to prioritize a common-sense proposed piece of legislation to address such. This issue affects the livelihood and safety of students. Above all else, the unwavering level of interest, mobilization, and support among students should fuel immediate passage of this bill from those who vow to listen to and protect us.
As we head into a fresh legislative session with the Every Voice bill refiled as HB 6374, (An Act Concerning Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses) I want to instill such urgency into members of the Connecticut General Assembly and ask that they listen to, above all else, students. Our legislators must act in accordance with the severity of sexual violence and the adverse effects of their inaction by cosponsoring, uplifting, and immediately passing the Every Voice bill. Constituents of Connecticut and students, I encourage you to reach out to your legislator and implore them to pass the Every Voice bill. Now is not the time for political games. Another year of inaction results in yet another year of undisturbed rates of sexual violence, impeding on the educational success, safety, and overall wellbeing of thousands of students in our State. The time to act is now.
Alison Hagani is a resident of Woodbridge and is the State Director of Every Voice CT.