Bill aims for universities to adopt comprehensive sexual assault - - Jackson, MS

Bill aims for universities to adopt comprehensive sexual assault response policy

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON METRO AREA, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

A Mississippi Representative hopes a new bill will change how sexual assault cases are handled on college campuses.

Representative Angela Cockerham wrote House Bill 1438 or the Sexual Assault for Students Act, which aims to require all public universities in Mississippi to adopt a comprehensive policy for sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

The bill states the policy must be consistent with federal and state law and include a definition of consent, as well as prohibit retaliation against a victim who files a complaint.

Keisha Varnell, the coordinator of student diversity at Jackson State University, said the potential of this bill becoming law in Mississippi is encouraging.

“It kind of alleviates some of the barriers that we have being heard and making sure that our students are safe in institutions of higher learning,” said Varnell. “So, it’s very encouraging to know that not only the college takes sexual assault and interpersonal violence seriously, but our legislators do as well.”

When speaking of barriers the university encounters when dealing with these cases, Varnell included the burden of proof and the belief that Title IX is biased to the complainant, who reports the crime.

Jackson State University offers services to students through their Latasha Norman Counseling Center, named after a student who died in a domestic violence situation in 2008.

“The counseling center is not only devoted to the overall health and well being of our students but to pay close attention to our students who have been victims or respondents of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking,” added Varnell. “They currently have a grant through the Office of Violence Against Women which places an emphasis on prevention programs and prevention services on campus.”

In addition to the resources available through the Natasha Norman Counseling Center, Varnell said having the bill pass would be beneficial to both students and administration.

“It’s important to have legislation as well as an administration that’s proactive because if we don’t, the incidents will be mitigated,” said Varnell. “Not only by society but a culture that says what did she do or what did he do? So, it’s important to have not only laws in place but a policy and a protocol in place so students can learn to trust the process. The overall goal is to have a safe campus and if the students can trust that process, then we’re doing our job because we see increased reporting. People might say increased reporting is a bad thing because it’s happening more but actually that’s a sign that students trust us enough to let us know.”

Although there are resources available to students, Varnell said there is still a stigma surrounding the reporting of sexual crimes on college campuses.

“I think it’s a little bit of a stigma, as well as not knowing what assault is,” said Varnell. “Sometimes we have victim blaming, sometimes they’re ashamed, and sometimes they do not identify as raped or sexually assaulted because they didn’t know; because I’m dating the person, because I was drunk or intoxicated, that it was actually sexual assault.”

Click here for more information on the Sexual Assault Response for Students Act.

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