Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 |
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Two bills aimed at making University of Hawaii campuses safer for students have passed the legislative session.
House Bill 554, introduced by state Rep. Jeanne Kapela, is a comprehensive bill requiring annual sexual misconduct prevention and awareness training for all students and employees.
“Sexual violence has no place on our state’s college campuses,” Kapela, a Democrat who represents portions of Puna and Ka‘u, said in a statement. “These measures will significantly strengthen prevention programming and survivor care throughout the University of Hawaii system, ensuring that students aren’t silenced in their pursuit of healing and justice.”
The bill establishes four new administrative, professional and technical positions to carry out the requirements, with $1 million appropriated from the UH tuition and fees special fund for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years.
“It’s not only student survivors that will benefit from the resources, but also faculty and employees,” said Anna Ezzy, a UH-Hilo graduate student who championed the bills as state director of the nonprofit Every Voice Hawaii. “More students are going to feel comfortable coming forward, and that’s something we’re seeing especially around the amnesty provision.”
The amnesty protection offered in the bill covers reporting parties who may have been violating UH code of conduct rules at the time of an assault or incident.
“Our first draft of the bill had amnesty for any school code violation, but that was restricted to drug and alcohol use,” Ezzy said, who noted the group might advocate for expanded protections in the future. “But I’m already hearing from students that have had experiences in the past that that was something that prevented them from coming forward because they were breaking a school rule.”
The 2021 Campus Climate Survey from UH found that just over 1 in 6 six students enrolled in UH experienced dating or domestic violence. But the anonymous survey is different from the official crime statistics released by UH under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination at universities.
The 2021 crime statistics report for UH-Hilo listed only two incidents of dating violence on campus, one incident of domestic violence, four incidents of stalking, and three for a category titled “Fondling.”
“The reports that the school is officially handling through Title IX, I think those could increase,” Ezzy said. “I expect for sure we’ll see probably a larger amount of students reaching out for help from the school.”
Ezzy noted UH leaders were supportive throughout the process and introduced the funding portion of the bill to help carry out the new tasks.
“The university is committed to improving institutional responses to allegations of sexual misconduct and other forms of gender violence,” said UH Vice President Jan Gouveia in written testimony. “To that end, it strives to adhere to national standards and best practices in the higher education context to support survivors, minimize retraumatization and further harm, and increase safety and well-being.”
The second bill, House Bill 580, amends Act 208, which was passed in 2016 and mandates training for UH employees and students on sexual violence policies and appoints a “confidential advocate” for each campus to assist student survivors.
The new amendment offers additional protections for students and how their conversations can be shared.
“It gives victims control over their stories,” Ezzy said of the bill, adding it limits the confidential advocate’s notes from being taken into a courtroom setting without the victim’s permission.
Ezzy has been working on both bills for the last two years, and is excited to see the hard work pay off.
“They both died in the last session,” she said. “And I’m honestly blown away and in shock that our legislators stepped up to the plate and raised this issue as something that needs to be supported.”
She’s looking forward to implementation, with HB 554 taking effect on July 1, and HB 580 taking effect upon approval, with both bills needing a final signature from Gov. Josh Green.
“We’re really going to focus on implementation and showing these resources can happen and we can meet these needs,” Ezzy said. “It’s been an amazing process to talk with students and really see that this issue is there, and that students are committed to standing up for and standing beside survivors to try and make a change.”
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