Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-5376

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING AFFIRMATIVE CONSENT.

Vote Date:

3/3/2016

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/1/2016

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Sen. Mae Flexer, 29th Dist.

Rep. Gregory Haddad, 54th Dist.

REASONS FOR BILL:

The Friendly Amendment to the bill adds a new section stating that, “Any student of an institution of higher education in this state shall not be required to obtain parental consent for an examination or provision of other healthcare services from a healthcare provider located on campus in connection with a sexual assault.”

HB 5376 updates the Connecticut General Statues Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence Policies to require the inclusion of affirmative consent as a standard in every institution of higher education's policy or policies regarding sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Mark Ojakian, President, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities: President Ojakian testified in support of the bill. He noted that affirmative consent is already a part of the language of the current Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) policy, and feels this bill is important to ensure all Connecticut students have access to the “same standard definition of consent.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Valeria Baltondano and Namrata Ramakrishna, Students, Center for Youth Leadership and the Mayor's Youth Leadership Council: Miss Baltondano and Miss Ramakrishna submitted testimony in support of the bill, which they applaud for making colleges safer and protecting students' rights. However, they raised some concerns that they brought up in their testimony, “(1) the bill needs to clearly state that the victim is protected from retaliation by the on-campus friends of the accused; (2) we believe some thought should be given to the use of impartial hearing officers; (3) we may have missed this but does the alleged victim have to report an assault or rape within a specific time frame; if yes, we would request as liberal a reporting period as possible; and (4) if the accused is found guilty at a campus disciplinary hearing does his record follow him if he transfers schools within the Connecticut higher education system.”

Alexander Borsa, Communication and Consent Educator, Yale University: Mr. Borsa testified in support of this bill because he believes it will promote safe standards for sexual conduct on campuses. In his written statement, he writes of affirmative consent, “It means that students only engage in sex when they know it is mutually desired.” He also discounts the notion that it will lead to more instances of false reporting as not being supported being the actual data.

Elizabeth Conklin, JD, Associate Vice President of the Office of Diversity and Equity and Title IX Coordinator, UCONN: Ms. Conklin submitted testimony in support of the bill. She noted that UCONN already has an affirmative consent standard in place. In her testimony, she writes, “silence, incapacitation and powerlessness do not and should not mean consent.” She feels that affirmative consent is an important standard for all of Connecticut's institutions on higher education.

Brianna DeVivo, UCONN College Democrats: Ms. DeVivo submitted testimony on behalf of the UCONN College Democrats in support of the bill. She feels that affirmative consent standards are an important step towards fighting a culture of victim blaming in sexual assault cases and set the standard for positive conversations about healthy sexual relationships.

Deb Heinrich, Director of Policy and Public Relations, Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence: Ms. Heinrich testified in favor of the bill. She points out that the majority of the universities and colleges in Connecticut already have affirmative consent policies in place, so this bill simply codifies existing practice and ensures consistency across all institutions. She feels affirmative consent policies will help shift the narrative around sexual assault from one that blames victims to one that encourages a culture of sexual respect.

Austin Longendyke, Graduate Student, UCONN School of Social Work: Mr. Longendyke testified in support of the bill, saying that, as a student, he feels safer with an affirmative consent standard. He notes that there are many situations where an individual may not feel comfortable saying “no”, and so affirmative consent is a better standard. He states that this legislation would not shift the burden of proof to the responding student, nor does it presume their guilt.

Gretchen Raffa, MSW, Director of Public Policy, Advocacy & Strategic Advancement, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England: Ms. Raffa testified in support of the bill. She feels that affirmative consent policies will lead to more equitable investigations of sexual assault on college campuses and create a shift away from the current culture of victim blaming. She supports this bill as a way to ensure all institutions of higher education in Connecticut use a consistent definition of affirmative consent, resulting in a standard and culture of sexual respect.

Carolyn Treiss, Executive Director, Permanent Commission on the Status of Women: Ms. Treiss testified in support of the bill, which she feels is a powerful tool for education and prevention of sexual assault. She notes that affirmative consent policies are just one part of the thorough campus investigative process in response to an alleged sexual assault, and that they will not shift the burden of proof away from the institution to the responding student. She also refutes the idea that affirmative consent will lead to an increase in false accusations of sexual assault by referencing statistics from the National Research Council that show that sexual assaults are actually largely underreported. Finally, Ms. Treiss feels this bill takes an important step towards confronting a culture of violence against women.

Dvora Walker, Legal and Public Policy Fellow, Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund: Ms. Walker testified in support of the bill, which she sees as a positive step to unify and clarify the affirmative consent policies already in place at most of Connecticut's colleges and universities. She notes that such policies make sexual assault cases more equitable, but do not shift the burden of proof away from the university to the responding student. She feels this bill will positively impact all of Connecticut's students.

Jennifer Widness, President, Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges: President Widness submitted testimony in support of the bill. She notes that nearly all of the member institutions of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges already have an affirmative consent standard in place. She suggests incorporating the word “unambiguous” into the definition of affirmative consent set forth in the bill, as it is already used in the affirmative consent policies of many higher education institutions and is well understood in practice.

Additional Testimony

Testimony was offered by the following people in support of the need of a law establishing affirmative consent policies at Connecticut's institutions of higher education as a way to promote a safe and respectful sexual environment on campuses and encourage more equitable outcomes in campus disciplinary processes:

Ruth Assefa, Master's Student, Yale School of Public Health

Michael Bogaty, Legislative Captain, Yale College Democrats

Sarah Donilon, Member, Yale College Democrats

Yasmin Eriksson, Co-Chair, Criminal Justice Legislative Committee, Yale College Democrats

Joanna Flanagan, Community Educator, Sexual Assault Crisis Service

Nicholas Girard, Treasurer, College Democrats of Connecticut

Zo Grant, Student, Central Connecticut State University

Miles Halpine, President, College Democrats of Connecticut

Makayla Haussler, Communications Director, Yale College Democrats

Roger Lopez, Member, Yale College Democrats

Gretchen Marino, Student, Central Connecticut State University

Katie Martin, Editor in Chief, Q Magazine at Yale

Dasia Moore, Legislative Coordinator, Yale College Democrats

Olivia Paschal, Legislative Captain, Yale College Democrats

Natasha Pierre, Esq, State Victim Advocate

Helen Price, Director, Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale

Hannah Schmitt, Member, Yale College Democrats

Maxwell Ulin, President, Yale College Democrats

Daniel Vernick, Legislative Captain, Yale College Democrats

Lina Volin, Events Coordinator, Yale College Democrats

Jacob Wasserman, Ward One Co-Chair, New Haven Democratic Town Committee

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Shelley Dempsey, Esq, Wilton: Ms. Dempsey testified in opposition to the bill. While she agrees that sexual assault is a serious issue on college campuses, she is concerned that affirmative consent policies will “ensure that wrongful accusations [of sexual misconduct] will continue to occur, and the accused will be specifically deprived of the protections afforded them under the Constitution of the United States.” She is concerned that this bill will lead to many innocent young men being falsely accused of sexual assault, and that affirmative consent policies improperly shift the burden of proof to the accused, eliminating their right to a presumption of innocence.

Gina Lauterio, Esq, Policy Project Director, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE): Ms. Lauterio testified in opposition to the bill. She and the organization she represents, SAVE, are against affirmative consent laws because they believe they will result in consensual activities being defined as sexual assault. They also feel that the bill will do nothing to prevent forcible sexual assault.

Cathy Ludlum, Manchester: Ms. Ludlum submitted testimony in opposition to the bill. She feels that the real root of the problem on college campuses is hook up culture, which this bill does not solve; rather, it promotes this culture. She also expressed concern that affirmative consent policies will be applied to nonsexual contact, at the detriment to students.

Stephen Mendelsohn, New Britain: Mr. Mendelsohn testified in opposition to the bill, as he is concerned of the affect it will have on students with disabilities, especially autistic students. He notes that many autistic individuals have difficulty reading social cues and non-verbal communications. These autistic students may find themselves accused of violating these policies simply because they could not recognize the body language that signals of affirmative consent or the withdrawal thereof. He also feels this policy reverses the presumption of innocence of an individual accused of sexual assault.

Cynara Stites, Storrs Mansfield: Ms. Stites submitted testimony in opposition to the bill. While she applauds the goal to change campus norms to address sexual assault, she does not find affirmative consent laws to be an effective way to bring about that change. She feels that saying “no” is as important as the absence of “yes” in determining that an assault occurred. She also reiterates that the presumption of innocence is not changed, even if the accused student cannot demonstrate that they received affirmative consent. Therefore, she feels this legislation will not have a meaningful effect on preventing sexual assault.

Reported by: Assistant Clerk Sam Westbrook

Date: March 7, 2016