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Sexual assault commission has inaugural meeting; Rep. Ackerman elected chairwoman
STATE HOUSE — A special House commission to study the issue of sexual assault on college campuses convened its first meeting today, electing Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) as its chairwoman.
The commission came about as the result of several meetings Representative Ackerman had earlier this year with educators, victims and law enforcement officials.
“After these meetings, it became clear that this was an issue that needed to be addressed publicly,” said Representative Ackerman. “It also needs to be handled delicately, as we all need to be sensitive to the worries and concerns of the victims who have already endured a severe emotional and physical trauma and have no desire to relive it.”
The first meeting of the commission comes just one week after Brown University released the results of a campus climate survey that showed on out of every four of the university’s female undergraduates reported that they’d experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact.
The results of the survey echo a report from the National Institute of Justice that estimated the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions may be between 20 and 25 percent over the course of the college careers.
“Those numbers are alarmingly high,” said Representative Ackerman. “So what do we do about it? Well, that’s what this commission is for. We’ll look at the causes, the frequency and the conditions under which these incidents happen. We’ll decide what can be done about it. But this has to stop.”
Representative Ackerman has identified two goals for the commission. The first is to reduce the number of incidents of sexual assault on college campuses in Rhode Island. The second is to reduce or eliminate the barriers to reporting these incidents. It is estimated that just 13 percent of rape victims report the crime to the campus police or local law enforcement agency.
In response to growing concerns about sexual assault on campus, many states have looked to create stronger policies for how colleges and universities handle the crimes. In the 2015 legislative session, at least 26 states introduced legislation to address sexual assault on and around college campuses.
Nationally, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, which laid out a list of recommendations and steps colleges and universities can take to address sexual assault on their campuses.
Besides Representative Ackerman, the commission will consist of Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Rep. Doreen Marie Costa (R-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. Steven O’Donnell, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Cumberland Police Chief Col. John Desmarais, Rhode Island College Interim Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Scott Kane, Johnson & Wales University Director of Student Contact Claire Hall, Day One Sexual Assault Treatment Provider Peg Langhammer, R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Deb Debare, sexual assault survivor Jane Johnson, University of Rhode Island Police Maj. Michael Jagoda and Dr. James Campbell of Providence College.
The commission will report its findings and recommendations to the House of Representatives no later than May 31, 2016.
For more information, contact:
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
Lt. Governor's Office
Secretary of State
Link to Public Records Request