June 18, 2019 | 65° F

N.J. State Bar Foundation works to change how sexual assault cases are handled at universities like Rutgers

Photo by Georgette Stillman |

Organized by the New Jersey State Bar, the Violence Against Women on College Campuses discussed sexual assault on University campuses through a legal lens. Participants focused on what administrators at institutions like Rutgers are currently doing and what they can do better in the future.

On Tuesday, the Violence Against Women on College Campuses showcase took place at the New Jersey Law Center. 

The event was organized by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education with the goal of discussing the issues surrounding campus sexual assault, said Cynthia Pelligrino, director of Grant Programs and Administration for the New Jersey State Bar Foundation.

“Between 20 and 25 percent of women are assaulted while they are in college. Many victims are freshmen or sophomores and some go unreported. Our concept was to shed light on that and also to talk about how to protect the rights of the accused," Pelligrino said.

This is a program that is balanced to look at what the universities are doing and what their role and responsibilities are, she said.

The moderator was Raymond Brown, a white-collar criminal defense attorney at Greenbaum Rowe Smith & Davis LLP and the host of a public television show called “Due Process,” Pelligrino said.

The event's panel is primarily comprised of lawyers, judges and social workers in New Jersey, she said.

The panel is New Jersey focused because it is the responsibility of the New Jersey Bar Foundation to focus on providing education to the citizens of New Jersey and lawyers require continuing education from the state, she said.

The goal of the event was to educate the public about these issues, the issues surrounding campus sexual assault and to provide lawyers with the education about the adjudication of these cases, Pelligrino said.

“It is one of those topics that needs education and the legal process. This event is an ideal presentation, this is the kind of thing we want to be doing. It is part of our charter, we want to help communicate to the public legal issues,” said Norberto Garcia, a trustee of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation.

The panel is moving toward discussions about how universities are handling sexual assault cases and how the system can be improved, Pelligrino said. Additionally, all of the panelists seemed to be well versed in the nationally known cases.

"This is a showcase program and this is the first time they have done it and they do not know yet if they are going to do it again," Pelligrino said.

Events usually held by the foundation are law-related and violence prevention education for the public, she said.

Once the foundation decided that Raymond Brown was going to be the moderator, they had a conversation with him about the background of the people he would like and they then went out to try to find those people, Pelligrino said.

Brown helped the foundation with finding another speaker, Helen Archontou, who is also on the New Jersey Task Force for Campus Violence. Archontou was formerly a social worker in the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

“I think this event reflects a deep understanding in society about the complexity of the institutional response to sexual violence on campus," Brown said.

Rutgers, in particular, has had to wrestle with this on several occasions and there have been a couple really high profile cases, Brown said.

“It’s something all students, faculty, administrators should care about,” Brown said.

When they were planning the event, they were really focusing on it as a continuing education program for lawyers. Because of this, including students was not an immediate goal but when they did try to reach out it was midterm week and it was going to be tough because it is an early morning program, Pelligrino said.

The event is wonderful because it is not just people who came here for credit, it is people who are engaged and are asking all kinds of compelling questions, she said.

“It’s programmed to include the public but our focus is really on educating lawyers about this subject and starting a conversation,” she said.

Brielle Diskin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

Brielle Diskin

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