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Gov. Sununu Signs Student-Written Sexual Assault Survivor Bill Into Law

Courtesy of John Gabrieli

  Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a bill that aims to support sexual assault survivors at colleges and universities. 

John Gabrieli is the director of the Every Voice Coalition, a student and survivor-led organization that wrote the language in the bill. Sophia Miller is a Dartmouth student organizer who helped bring the Coalition’s work to New Hampshire.

They joined NHPR's All Things Considered Host Peter Biello to talk about the bill.

Listen to the conversation:


(Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.)

So, John, tell us about this bill. How will this new law change the lives of college sexual assault survivors?

Well, New Hampshire just became the first state in the country to pass student-written legislation. That's one of the most comprehensive bills that any states passed in the country. The key provisions include expanding access to prevention education and training so students understand the definition of consent and can intervene as bystanders if they see something happening that's wrong, expanding access to health care services, counselling and legal support services for survivors, as well as increasing transparency and data collection around sexual violence.

And under this bill, all schools have to conduct a climate surveyed to learn about the state of sexual assault on their campuses. Why do you think this was an important part of the legislation?

90 percent of campuses right now report zero cases of rape every year.

And as students and young people on many of these campuses, we know that that's not accurate. And it feels incredibly silencing and erasing of many people's experiences to see this issue so brushed under the rug. Our hope is that by allowing students safely and anonymously to share their experiences, we can shed more light on this problem and hopefully work toward not only increasing transparency, but also finding new solutions.

And Sophia, what was your role in getting this law passed?

A lot of our initial work was about going over the legislation and thinking about what we as students, and specifically New Hampshire students, thought was really important to include in the bill and thought really helped protect survivors. I know something we really focused on was the role of the confidential resource adviser, which is a provision in the bill. And that's someone who can help connect students who experience sexual assault on campus to different resources, that can help them like really continue to succeed and pursue their academics. Since then, it's been a lot of kind of legislative advocacy.

And how difficult was it to find lawmakers who were willing to back this bill?

I was actually kind of surprised at the base of support we found. We actually ended up having, I think, 14 co-sponsors in the Senate, which was more than a majority of senators, which was really awesome. There were a lot of people that were really in support of this.

And John, I want to go back to you for a moment, because you mentioned this was written by students. How was it written by students?

This effort started almost six years ago when I was an undergraduate myself. And I think like many college students, everybody either has been impacted by sexual violence or knows someone who has. And we felt incredibly powerless watching this cycle of violence on our campus, watching our friends and family being impacted and not feeling like we could do anything about it. And we sat down, about eight of us, and said, “We need to do something.” I helped draft a first version of this bill that was originally filed in Massachusetts back in 2015. We've continued our advocacy across the country because right now there are 30 states across the United States that have no protections in law regarding campus sexual violence specifically. So it's been urgent to listen to students and survivors. If we're going to solve the campus sexual violence epidemic, we need to listen to those who are being impacted. We had a first draft of the bill, but we took that to New Hampshire and we talked to students at Dartmouth, at UNH, at Keene State, at SNHU, to get their thoughts and feedback on what needs to be in this bill and what protections students need on our campuses. And that's what we ultimately took to Senator Hennessy and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and said, as students and survivors on campuses across New Hampshire, this is what we feel needs to happen.

That's Senator Martha Hennessy, a Democrat.

That's correct.

But I think one of the things that was also very exciting about this process was the extent to which this bill received bipartisan support. Sexual violence, stopping sexual violence, should not be a partisan issue. We worked with College Democrats and College Republicans on the bill. In the legislature, we had Democratic and Republican co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate. I think there's been recognition from both sides of the aisle: we can and should do more to protect survivors and to keep our campuses safe.

And, John, you're hoping to have every state pass this legislation. Why do you think New Hampshire was the first?

I don't know. We've been asking ourselves that question, too. I myself started this work six years ago as a college student in Massachusetts, and we always thought that Massachusetts would be first, but are very grateful that New Hampshire took action today. I think a huge piece of it has been the incredible student advocacy led by Sophia and so many other students across the state who have made hundreds, if not thousands of phone calls, letters and emails to legislators over just the past few months alone. And also the extent to which New Hampshire has a truly civilian legislature where I think legislators are willing to take the time to listen and hear students, and take action based on what they're hearing from their constituents.

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