|Farley-Bouvier Ends Session With Bill Passage, Sets Agenda for 2021|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff|
01:11AM / Sunday, January 10, 2021
|State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, seen in this file photo, was co-author of a bill addressing sexual assault on campuses that passed the last day of the formal session.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier ended the legislative session with a signature achievement: the passage of bill addressing sexual assault on college campuses.
S.2979, An Act Relative to Sexual Violence on Higher Education Campuses, was passed on the final day of the formal session and is awaiting the governor's signature. The legislation requires both public and private higher-education institutions to create policies and procedures around campus assaults and creates a task force to develop and review sexual misconduct surveys.
Bouvier started looking into this issue after touring college campuses with her daughter in 2013. This was at the same time there was a lot of discussion around sexual assault on campus, including a performance art project by Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz in which she carried a 50-pound mattress around wherever she went to protest the mishandling of her sexual assault.
"That's a pretty scary time for moms to be taking their daughters to tour colleges," Farley-Bouvier said.
At the question-and-answer part of campus tours, Farley-Bouvier would ask how the college handles sexual assault. The answer was almost exactly the same on every campus, she said, which was that it had a blue-light system. This system is common on college campuses and is a series of emergency alarm stations with blue lights strategically placed where a person can press a button if being attacked.
"That's not how sexual assault happens on campus," Farley-Bouvier said regarding the blue-light systems, as sexual assaults normally happen in private areas.
Bouvier had filed legislation the following session and state Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, who also has college-age daughters, filed legislation around campus climate surveys around the same time. The bills were combined to not only have the procedures and processing in place but also to create campus climate surveys.
This bill is also about bringing justice to victims. Sulkowicz's case was mishandled because Columbia officials were working so hard to protect the accused, Farley-Bouvier said, but once her story was made public, three more people came out to say they were sexually assaulted by the same man.
One in five young women are sexually assaulted at college, most between Labor Day and Thanksgiving of their freshman or sophomore year, the representative said.
"Often people don't report [sexual assault] because the system is so broken," Farley-Bouvier said. "It's not so secret that things happen, it's not so secret that it's mishandled, but it's not until we really change the rape culture that is on our campuses that we can have 20 percent of women not experience this."
Farley-Bouvier explained that sexual assault experiences are impactful and long-lasting. Women who experience sexual assault often drop out of school or miss a semester, which impacts not only their financial future but the financial stability of their families. Sexual assault, especially if not addressed or given justice, can begin a downward spiral in a young person's life.
"Passage of this bill sends a powerful message from Massachusetts leaders that while you attend one of our state's world-class campuses, we care about your safety," Ehrlich said in a statement. "With 90 percent of sexual assaults not reported, the data out is only as good as the data in. By going directly to students, or even professors and staff, and asking them about their lived experience, this bill provides a powerful tool for college administrators who are responsible for student safety."
The legislation requires, among other issues, that colleges develop policies in such areas as jurisdicational responses and information access and procedures for agreements with local law enforcement and crisis centers.
Though Farley-Bouvier's inspiration for this bill was her daughter, she also has does not want her two sons in any environment where sexual assault is considered OK. This is not good for young men either, she said.
This legislation also makes sure that there are appropriate and fair processes in place, meaning an accused person can't be thrown out of school based solely on an accusation.
The bill is written in such a way that if President-elect Joseph Biden decides to bring further protections to students on campus, Farley-Bouvier said, it will follow federal law and give specific outlines for how Massachusetts handles sexual assault on college campuses.
In the next legislative session, she will be filing a number of bills including one that deals with providing driver's licenses regardless of immigration status, and a bill that supports foster parents.
This bill would allow foster parents to unionize and give them a seat at the table when it comes to rates, procedures, and processing.
After the resignation at the end of 2020 of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, of whom she was a fan, Farley-Bouvier said she is excited to work with his successor, Ronald Mariano.
"In a time like this, we need stability and strong leadership," she said. "We are still working under the stress of the pandemic, which has a lot of impact on literally the workings of the House, and with his experience and the relationships that he has built in the State House on Beacon Hill, he is the guy to do it."
Looking into the new year, Farley-Bouvier said the commonwealth's first job is to get through the pandemic. Within her office at the House, a lot of time has been dedicated to unemployment insurance, evictions, and food security for residents of the 3rd Berkshire District.
"We're going to continue to do that and strengthen our systems to be able to do that," she said. "In any difficult situation you can make things better to make things worse, our job is to make things better."