Gov. Andrew Cuomo is noted for getting budgets in on time, and his timing in the call for the passage of a tough law on campus sexual assault is equally propitious, with the alleged and debunked rape charge at the University of Virginia back in the news. An associate dean at the school, who was made out to be the “chief villain” in the Rolling Stone article, is suing the magazine for $7.5 million.
If the governor can get lawmakers to agree on his sexual assault proposal aimed principally at private colleges—“affirmative consent” is already in place in public colleges—it would be one of the toughest in the nation. What affirmative consent means is that the accused student would have to show that the accuser agreed to sexual activity. Such a measure was passed last year in California, the first state to do so.
That is the bare bones of it, although other provisions are in the proposed measure, and we second the governor’s move on this. We hope that lawmakers can see the wisdom in the governor’s proposal, and it will bolster the steps already taken by the Obama administration to deal with the often unreported attacks that Rep. Nancy Pelosi has called an “epidemic.”
This initiative by the governor falls under the “Enough Is Enough” campaign to end sexual assaults and violence on our nation’s campuses, and it has been endorsed by comedian/activist Whoopi Goldberg. According to the governor, Goldberg “has been a tireless advocate for human rights throughout her career, and we are proud to have her support.”
And so are we, and we hope that a gaggle of legislators who have voiced concerns about parts of the law, particularly that the “victim” designation be removed from the person allegedly assaulted while the person allegedly committing the assault is called “the accused,” will support the measure. To define the people involved in the incident as the accuser and the accused is fair enough and would eliminate the prejudicial element.
Clearly, we believe in the presumption of innocence, and we have had our history with false accusations when it comes to the issue of rape beyond the campuses, none more disturbing than the circumstances surrounding the “Central Park Five.”
Even so, what the governor is proposing is a meaningful step in the right direction, and perhaps this will encourage many of those who have been fearful or reluctant to speak out about being assaulted. According to several studies, only 10 percent of women who are raped actually report it. The same study indicates that every 21 hours a rape occurs on a college campus; most of the rapes occur under the influence of alcohol. And even more disconcerting, of the college women who are raped, only 25 percent describe the incident as rape.
We realize that to get the bill passed is one thing, and to get the various private colleges to implement it is another. But, no matter how it pans out, we believe that the governor is right on this initiative, and if the legislators would show more enthusiasm for it, the private colleges, particularly those in their districts, would be more willing to support something that would appear to be for their own good—and certainly for the good of those most vulnerable on our campuses.