Rutgers student assembly passes bill to create sexual assault prevention committee

<p>Allie Williams, a member of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, stands next to Matt Panconi, president of the assembly and with a group of students who co-authored a bill that proposed creating a sexual assault prevention committee. </p>

Allie Williams, a member of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, stands next to Matt Panconi, president of the assembly and with a group of students who co-authored a bill that proposed creating a sexual assault prevention committee. 

A little more than two weeks ago, Allie Williams, a member of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, stood solo behind a podium advocating for the creation of a sexual assault prevention committee that was struck down after not acquiring the two-thirds majority from voting members.

On Oct. 15, Williams, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, took the podium again to present the bill that proposed to create a sexual assault prevention standing committee, this time joined by seven assembly members and co-authors of the bill, including Assembly President Matt Panconi.

The bill passed the two-thirds majority, and Williams turned elatedly to the bill’s co-authors to celebrate their victory.

The tenets of the bill presented last night at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus kept the same responsibilities from the bill that was presented in late September, but it added three provisions, Panconi said.

The committee is a standing, or permanent, committee, but it is on a one-year trial that will continue into the next school year unless alternative suggestions propose to alter the committee or its structure, Panconi said.

The second provision would elect their committee chair, who would need to submit an application and interview with a five-person panel led by Panconi, and the previous sexual assault task force chair, which Williams headed. The panel would not select the chair, but vet applicants to fill the remaining five panel positions and push them along in the process to be elected by the assembly’s voting members.

According to the bill, it would be “highly recommended” that the panel double-check applicants’ qualifications with a student advocate from the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.

“Because of the sensitivity of the issue, we need to ensure that the people running for this position are qualified,” Panconi said.

The third provision would hold the committee chair to complete Title IX training through the Office of Student Affairs Compliance, and encourage fellow committee members to undergo training about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination at any federally-funded institution.

Although the bill passed last night to establish a standing committee, Williams’s original plan, it was previously an ad hoc, or temporary, committee, re-amended back to a standing committee and eventually shut down at the meeting in September.

Vishal Patel, assembly treasurer and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, opposed the bill at the meeting in late September and criticized the committee as being overly specific in a short speech, according to a previous article in The Daily Targum.

"Even long-term, this committee can be merged into another committee, so I don’t see this committee standing on its own,” he said in September.

At the September meeting, the bill previously counted 14 members who voted yes, eight members who voted no and nine members who abstained.

The bill’s failure immediately drew outrage, and various opinion pieces were published expressing disappointment.

In a piece Williams wrote for the online publication HerCampus, she reminded readers that it took the student assembly less than half an hour and little debate to pass a bill establishing a standing committee for athletics, despite the presence of thousands of sexual assault survivors compared to the less than 1,000 Rutgers student-athletes.

Twenty-four percent of women reported experiencing sexual violence before coming to Rutgers, Williams said in September while quoting from the #iSpeak survey, which was taken by 12,343 students, or 29.5 percent of invited participants, according to the survey’s online assessment.

Students who did not identify as heterosexual were two to three times more likely to experience sexual violence before coming to college and after becoming college students, according to #iSpeak survey results, according to a previous article in The Daily Targum. And nationally, 3 percent of American men, or 1 in 33, reported being a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault in their lifetimes, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Further, undergraduate women are most at risk for sexual assault, with 20 percent of undergraduate women reporting at least one instance of unwanted sexual contact, Williams said. Yet less than 8 percent of undergraduate women survivors reported their incidents to campus resources, according to #iSpeak.

In the face of the numbers, Williams said “it’s about time” that the assembly took action last night.

“I hope that we can take real action regarding sexual assault,” she said.

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