By: Brandi Kennedy, FVVA
Political advocacy is a top priority for New Horizons. I recently participated in a Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee public hearing to advocate in favor of one bill that is long overdue: HB 6374, An Act Concerning Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses. As a Family Violence Victim Advocate and Certified Domestic Violence Counselor, I know that law reform and policy changes have brought about some improvements, but data shows we need more drastic change to address the sexual misconduct many victim-survivors face while attending a college or university in Connecticut.
When I provided my written and verbal testimony, I talked about providing secondary stakeholders – college administrative staff, advisors, the judicial branch, and anyone who can directly impact the primary stakeholders: victim-survivors – a paradigm shift in knowledge and a deeper understanding of victim-survivor reactions to traumatic violent crimes.
We have seen alarming trends regarding victim perception when disclosing sexual misconduct; often victim-survivors are plagued with guilt, shame and silence because they believe they are somehow responsible for the abuse they have endured. These emotions are often perpetuated by the messages victim-survivors hear, whether on social media or from individuals who may not be trauma-informed. These messages include the many prevention facts and healing quotes one can see by simply scrolling through Instagram – prevention messages telling victim-survivors that if they only knew the warning signs, they could have prevented getting involved with their abuser, or healing messages stating they must forgive or risk bringing what they don’t heal into their next relationships. These messages breed shame, guilt and silence and solely focus on the victim-survivor’s actions instead of the abuser’s.
Trauma is pervasive and rewires our brain’s defense circuitry. It impacts how we respond to the world around us. HB 6374 demands that Connecticut increase and improve sensitivity to the diversity of victim-survivors’ trauma responses and reflect it in policy. Sexual assault, intimate partner violence (IPV) and stalking are intensely private crimes due to the stigma involved, causing those who disclose it to face victim-shaming tactics. HB 6374 seeks to not only protect but to understand the voices of enrolled Connecticut college students and validate their lived experience.
I went down a rabbit hole of statistics as I was researching for my testimony, but a few stuck out to me. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network:
- Only 20% of female victims ages 18-24 report their sexual abuse to law enforcement;
- 12% of female victims believed their abuse was not important enough to report; and
- 90% of rapes at colleges are perpetuated by only 3% of college men.
These statistics indicate two things: there is a significant issue of repeat offenders on college campuses, and the impacts of sexual abuse lead to underreporting and shame with many victim-survivors. We need to do better.
Connecticut’s current legislative endeavor with HB 6374 strives to provide protections for students who report alleged sexual misconduct including amnesty if the victim was incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol or medication, and the existence of a past or current dating or sexual relationship. The bill also establishes a Council on Sexual Misconduct Climate Surveys, which would identify and approve surveys for colleges and universities to utilize biennially. Lastly, the bill will provide on-going and updated data regarding the climate surveys no later than six months after distribution and every two years thereafter. These changes are fundamental to the betterment of changing the stigma around trauma-informed care and victim-survivor’s long lasting response to trauma. These surveys will provide Connecticut’s higher education institutes firsthand knowledge, safety needs and perceptions from the voices who matter: victim-survivors.
As a member of the New Horizons team and a MSW Policy Practice graduate student, I strive to empower victim-survivors to find their voice in advocating for legislative change.
If you are interested in learning how you can contact your local legislators in support of HB 6374, please contact me at [email protected].