FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – A group of Norwalk and Stamford students traveled to Hartford last week to speak their minds about a bill moving through the state legislature.
Members of Norwalk’s Center for Youth Leadership and the Stamford Youth Services Bureau joined State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Norwalk) in Hartford last week to speak in favor of H.B. 5029, a bill proposing new sexual assault protections at Connecticut’s colleges.
Millie Cunningham of Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk and Kirsi Balazs of Stamford High delivered a joint testimony during the bill’s public hearing before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Higher Education and Employee Advancement.
The bill would make sweeping changes to how colleges and universities in the state deal with sexual assault and domestic violence. Among other changes, the bill would require schools to release more thorough reports on the number of such incidents each year, and to include off-campus incidents involving its students in the reports.
“As we all know, incidents that occur off campus more often than not find their way into the lives of students on campus. To separate the two is to ignore the obvious, often with serious consequences,” the girls said.
The bill also includes provisions that would require schools to notify victims of their full legal rights when they report cases to authorities, and to allow some reports to be filed anonymously. It would also have school form a “trained sexual assault response team” and coordination with an off-campus sexual assault crisis center.
In their testimony the girls shared anecdotes from their own schools, such as the verbal harassment a student felt from a teacher who said she “looked like a whore” when wearing leggings. The two also noted the arrest last year of a Stamford High student for sexual assault, which was not communicated to parents from the school’s administration.
The students hoped that the protections of the bill could be extended to their own schools as well.
“Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like our schools are out of control,” the girls’ testimony reads. “They’re not, but there is more than enough harassment to go around, which is why we are working with our boards of education on awareness, prevention and intervention programs…”