‘It’s on Us’ reminds Gov. Wolf about stopping sexual assaults on campus

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The statistics are sobering: one in five women on college campuses will be sexually assaulted, according to experts.

“We’re challenging the former culture of silence and darkness and fear and shame for the one assaulted,” Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in the Governor’s Reception Room in Harrisburg.

Gov. Tom Wolf, advocates, lawmakers and university presidents gathered to push proposed legislation that would enhance the “It’s On Us” campaign, a nationwide effort that Wolf pledged to support last year. Since the Jerry Sandusky saga, no state legislature has done more than Pennsylvania’s to aggressively protect kids on campuses.

“We’re the first state to require that all post-secondary institutions report annual crime statistics and develop campus safety policies as part of a law that would ultimately become the federal Clery Act,” Wolf said.

A good start, advocates say, but they pause when asked if all schools in Pennsylvania know how to properly handle abuse allegations?

“No. I wouldn’t say that,” said Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, “but that’s exactly why this is important.”

Wolf spotlighted several pieces of pending legislation that he supports including an expansion of the Office for Safe Schools under the state Department of Education, a requirement that K-12 students be age-appropriately educated about sexual assault, the creation of online and anonymous reporting of assaults on college campuses, and an amnesty program that prevents reporters from being disciplined for alcohol or drug use as long as they’re reporting an assault on campus.

The governor wants $1 million to use on grants that would train and educate school officials no how to handle rapes and assaults. That line item was approved in the current fiscal year. House Republicans stripped it out in their version of next year’s budget. But much negotiation remains before the budget is finalized.

“I like to say how we budget is how we define ourselves,” Dean said. “So will we define ourselves as a state that will commit to the initiatives the governor has put forward? I’d like to think so.”

But those statistics are also stubborn. Despite years of programs and initiatives to raise awareness about assaults on campuses, 20 percent of college women are still falling victim.

“It takes more than 15 years of concerted prevention efforts to change what we have done over several millennia in our culture,” Houser said.

But advocates hope that with more and more of us realizing that it’s on us to stop sexual assault and report sexual assault and encourage victims of sexual assault, maybe the numbers of sexual assault will begin to decline.

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