HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday joined legislators, advocates, and students to announce his plan to introduce a package of bills as part of his “It’s On Us PA” campaign to combat sexual violence in schools and college campuses.
“This legislation is the result of students, parents, advocates, education leaders, and people across the commonwealth working together to improve reporting and response standards for sexual assault,” Wolf said in a press release. “We are making progress to combat sexual violence, and these proposals will ensure that all Pennsylvania students have the information, resources, and supports they need.”
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, attended the news conference in Harrisburg.
“This measure is a first step,” Baker said. “More reports will not mean a great deal without a commitment by administrators to give allegations a fair and full review. The best deterrent is certainty that such crimes will be reported, investigated, and punished consistent with what the evidence warrants.”
The governor launched the “It’s On Us PA” program last year. Thousands of Pennsylvanians, including superintendents and university and college presidents, have signed the “It’s On Us” Pledge, which encourages everyone to help end sexual assault.
The six bills would:
• Expand the scope and authority of the Office for Safe Schools within the Department of Education.
• Require an annual report card on sexual violence and harassment in K-12 and post-secondary institutions.
• Create a consolidated, comprehensive anti-violence and anti-harassment policy for K-12 schools that aligns requirements related to bullying, hazing, sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, and other issues.
• Require post-secondary institutions to adopt affirmative consent standards for responding to allegations of sexual violence, and expand K-12 health education standards to explicitly address areas of consent and healthy relationships.
• Require that post-secondary institutions offer online, anonymous reporting options for students.
• Establish amnesty policies protecting students who report sexual assault from being disciplined for other policy violations, such as drug and alcohol use.
“Pennsylvania’s students deserve to learn in spaces free from violence,” said state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Dallas. “These initiatives will ensure our educational institutions have the necessary tools to enforce state and federal guidelines relating to sexual violence prevention and response.”
Sen. Baker said students and administrators from Misericordia University and Wilkes University attended Wednesday’s announcement at the Capitol.
Baker said legislators learned a great deal about the obstacles that discourage many victims of sexual violence from even reporting the assault, much less from seeking justice.
“We believe that a substantial remedy is to offer online and anonymous reporting,” Baker said. “Individual institutions can pick the tools to fit their circumstances, but there is an unmistakable expectation they will do more to encourage victims to come forward.”
She noted that only one in 10 victims “report their experience in a formal way to school administrators, campus officials or law enforcement.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.