MA legislature considers sexual harassment bill for universities

A new proposal could change future sexual misconduct laws in MA.

The paradigm in our society has shifted, in terms of how we view and handle allegations of sexual assault. That shift is obviously most visible and newsworthy in Hollywood. The goal of the #MeToo is a noble one, but it is one that must move forward wisely and cautiously. Sexual assault is a serious matter for real victims, but in many ways, it is even more serious for those who are wrongly accused of these criminal acts. As such, careful consideration of the impact on all parties should precede any major proposed changes.

Massachusetts is currently considering such a change. Representative Lori Ehrlich recently proposed a sexual harassment bill that specifically targets institutions of higher education. The bill aims to create a sexual assault climate survey for colleges and universities in the state. The law would require the participation of both public and private campuses.

Details on the sexual harassment bill

The bill would not just require participation, but would also result in a task force that would compile the sexual assault climate survey used by campuses. These campus climate surveys are tools used to gather data about sexual assault. Politicians can then use this data to fuel future reform efforts.

This specific proposal addresses sexual misconduct. It defines "sexual misconduct" as incidents of sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, gender-based violence and sexual harassment as well as incidents of stalking. The task force created by the law would be comprised of 19 individuals. Co-chairs on the task force would include the commissioner of higher education or a designee, the commissioner of public health or a designee and the attorney general or a designee. The remaining 16 members would include those representing various victim advocacy groups, sexual assault specialists and representatives from the universities as well as at least one student. Noticeably absent is anyone from the criminal defense bar.

The task force created by this law would put together a series of questions for use on the campus. Universities can opt out of using the survey created by the task force and use another that is more specific to their campus. The survey should allow for anonymity of participants. Survey results would be compiled and filed with the commissioner of higher education before December 31, 2018.

Goal of the campus climate survey

Ultimately, the United States Department of Justice notes that these surveys are used to help "craft solutions that match the needs of individual schools" as they attempt to address the issue of sexual assault on campus.

As noted above, sexual assault is a serious matter, not just for victims of this crime but also for those who face false accusations of wrongdoing. It is important that those who are crafting these solutions also keep in mind innocent the individuals wrongly accused of these crimes.

Impact on sexual assault cases

If the law passes, the task force could gather data to change the sexual assault laws in the state. These changes could directly impact anyone facing criminal charges for sex crimes. The proposal is currently moving forward. This serves as a reminder that the law is always changing. A sex crimes defense attorney can provide advocacy on your behalf through these changes, increasing the chances of a favorable outcome.