Gender And Sexuality Column

Thompson: New York colleges have an essential summer assignment: Tackling sexual assault

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For every documented sexual assault case, many others go unreported. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "Enough is Enough" law aims to change that.

School may be out for summer, but New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo has colleges across the state back in session.

Cuomo is mandating a review of all higher education institutions in New York to see how well they’re complying with his 2015 “Enough is Enough” law. The initiative comes in direct response to the wave of sexual assaults on college campuses, and is designed to hold public and private universities accountable for following official protocol and investigations of assault cases.

This mandate is just one of Cuomo’s many efforts aimed at alleviating the stigmas surrounding survivors of sexual assault, especially victim-blaming and lack of university cooperation in subsequent investigations. For college students across the state, and women in particular, Cuomo’s actions are a sign of triumph following years when slut-shaming garnered more attention than the prosecution of rapists.

Randi Bregman, the executive director of Syracuse’s Vera House, said the decision was crucial to ensure colleges are held accountable for not only their students’ actions, but their own.

“I think it is important for public figures to discuss issues of sexual assault and create policy because we still see far too many sexual assaults occurring,” Bregman said. “It is our hope that public conversation about changing rape culture coupled with significant policy changes will create safer campuses across New York.”

Specifically, Cuomo’s “Enough is Enough” legislation promotes the concept of “affirmative consent,” defined as “explicit, informed, and voluntary agreement to participate in a sexual act.” Bregman said the inclusion of affirmative consent in Cuomo’s narrative was essential for charging rapists for their crimes.

“Affirmative consent is a critical component of addressing inconsistent definitions and understandings of what is required to ensure consent is obtained and was freely and clearly given,” Bregman said. “Prior to adopting the consistent definition of ‘affirmative consent,’ perpetrators of sexual assaults would often claim that they thought that they had consent because the victim did not say ‘no.’”

More than 9,200 cases of sexual assaults and rapes were reported in 2015, according to the United States Department of Education. Out of those incidents documented, 712 took place at New York state colleges.

More than 9,200 forcible sex offenses were reported on colleges campuses nationwide in 2015. 712 of them happened in new York state.

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What is more traumatizing than this statistic is that of the 9,200 incidents reported, thousands more have gone undocumented, likely due to victims’ fears of backlash and consequences. The stigma surrounding assault victims, based on what they were wearing or how much alcohol they consumed, leads victims to lose confidence in their universities’ abilities to defend students and charge abusers.

Cuomo’s higher education initiative is the latest example of his strength and pioneership as a dominant liberal figure in U.S. politics. His dedication to sexual assault victims seeking closure and justice for their assailants is imperative in the current political climate, in which victim-blaming has taken precedence over protection.

The time is now for politicians to hold themselves and their institutions accountable for protecting their citizens, regardless of age, gender or party affiliation. Contrary to what some politicians may think, sexual assault isn’t locker room talk. It’s a felony with severe and justifiable consequences.

The current culture surrounding consent may not be passing with flying colors, but Cuomo’s efforts are making the grade.

Kelsey Thompson is a junior magazine journalism major. Her column appears biweekly. She can be reached at katho101@syr.edu.

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