The first six weeks of college are considered a “red zone” for incoming freshmen when it comes to sexual assault.
According to research by the U.S. Department of Justice, the first month and a half of college is the time when freshmen women are most likely to be raped or experience attempted rape. Connecticut’s legislature is looking to pass legislation later this month that would make it easier for survivors or bystanders to come forward and report it.
“After I was raped I did not know what to do or who to turn to. I blamed myself for drinking beyond the point of memory retention, and afraid that would be used against me if I came forward to report,” Nora Gallo said.
Gallo, who attended UMass Amherst, testified in February in support of a bill that would create an amnesty provision for college students who attend parties where there were drugs and alcohol.
“The current lack of this provision encompasses a culture of rape that has not been addressed with the action that we seek today,” Gallo said.
The legislature adjourned before it was able to debate and pass the legislation, but the Every Voice Coalition wants to see it addressed soon.
“It's the first six weeks of college around the period of August to November is when most students are at risk this is why this is such a crucial time to pass this legislation so that another day doesn’t go by that students aren’t protected in the state of Connecticut,” Zoe Bertone, a junior at Connecticut College and a member of the Every Voice Coalition said.
But what does sexual violence look like during COVID-19?
According to Every Voice Coalition, students might not be willing to come forward to report a sexual assault if they think they could be disciplined for attending a party and not social distancing or wearing a mask.
“With the social distancing policies that’s another barrier for students to come forward,” Bertone said.
Some colleges have a Good Samaritan clause in their student code of conduct that would offer survivors and witnesses of sexual assault amnesty against discipline.
Angelo Simoni, the Title IX coordinator for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said the state schools have such a provision.
“We have an amnesty provision built into the student code of conduct meaning that a student who reports they might have been sexually assaulted on or off campus or really anywhere for that matter has the ability to not receive any kind of negative consequences upon reporting that,” Simoni said.
Bertone said that’s not enough – a state law is necessary because not every school has a Good Samaritan clause.
Not all students are aware of this clause.
“I think that if there was legislation passed it would be more likely that students would report instances of sexual assault without the fear of getting in trouble for being at a party against social distancing requirements,” Emma Deveran, a UConn freshman who did not know about the Good Samaritan clause, told NBC Connecticut.
There wasn’t anything she could recall from orientation about the current protections.
“We’re all trying our best to abide by the rules and stay safe,” Summer Mitchell, a freshman, said.
Gail Boahen, a freshman from Manchester, said “We didn’t really know the consequences of what would happen if we didn’t follow the rules till a group of students who were partying, a lot of them got kicked off of campus.”
However, if a sexual assault happened at a party, students said they wouldn’t be afraid to report it.
“I consider sexual assault worse than going to a party with COVID, if I was at a party with COVID and I saw someone get sexually assaulted I would report that because I don’t tolerate that at all,” Andre Mastrandrea, another freshman, said.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said they are looking at taking up the legislation during a September special session.
“So what we’ve learned given now with COVID-19, a lot of the universities put strict prohibitions on any gatherings of individuals under threat of being removed from school. So our fear is given the parameters under which we’re operating, it makes it more timely now that if a sexual assault was to happen at an unauthorized party or gathering at whatever the school says is the number, would that student report it?” Aresimowicz said.