In 2014, John Gabrieli and some of his fellow college students founded the Every Voice Coalition and drafted the Every Voice bill, which would require colleges and universities to provide support for survivors of sexual violence on campuses. More than five years later, Gabrieli and other activists are still hoping to see their bill become law in Massachusetts.
The bill was first filed in the Legislature in January 2015. It has since been filed in several other states and a similar bill became law in New Hampshire in July, but it has yet to be brought up for a vote on Beacon Hill.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, speaking at the Every Voice Coalition’s virtual advocacy summit on Tuesday, said he is “hopeful that the bill can be debated and acted upon” this year.
Nora Gallo, a national codirector of the coalition, said DeLeo’s words were meaningful, even if not a guarantee.
“For me, as somebody who is a survivor and spent a portion of my college career advocating for this legislation . . . hearing the speaker attending our event and being able to hear him vocalize his commitment to students and survivors across the state by passing this legislation is very powerful,” said Gallo, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in May.
The bill would require colleges and universities to adopt — and communicate to students — sexual misconduct policies that include procedures for reporting incidents, information on where to receive emergency assistance, descriptions of support services and protective measures available for survivors, and information on the school’s procedures for resolving and investigating sexual misconduct claims. It lays out specific measures those procedures would need to involve.
It would also create a task force to develop model questions for a sexual misconduct climate survey, which, after review by state higher education officials, would be distributed to colleges and universities. Public and independent higher education institutions would have to survey their students at least once every four years and post a summary of the anonymous responses online.
While some institutions have confidential resource advisers, Gabrieli said many do not. Even those that do serve as confidential advisers on campuses do not have legal privilege; they can be made to reveal a survivor’s identity in court. New federal Title IX regulations from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, which increase due-process protections for accused students and shield institutions from some legal liabilities, went into effect in August, and Gabrieli said the Every Voice bill has never been more important.
“Make no mistake that [the new guidelines are] the single biggest setback for the rights of survivors and the safety of students on campuses in decades, if not ever,” said Gabrieli, who is now the coalition’s executive director. “This bill has been vetted as much as a bill could possibly be, and at some point we have to ask ourselves, ‘What are we waiting for?’ The clock is certainly running out.”
The new federal regulations, which were announced in 2017 and finalized in May, narrow the scope of what is considered an on-campus sexual assault. DeVos called the new rules a “historic action to strengthen Title IX protections for survivors” in a news release on May 6. The release also states that the new rules will make for a “more reliable adjudication process that is fair to all students.” But critics say the due process measures, which include allowing the accused to cross examine accusers, will discourage survivors from coming forward and retraumatize ones who do.
More than 100 of the 160 House members are cosponsors of the bill.
A spokesman for Senate President Karen E. Spilka said in a statement to the Globe that the Senate “[looks] forward to engaging with appropriate stakeholders on this topic.” A similar bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means in March. That bill is cosponsored by 24 of the Senate’s 40 members.
On Tuesday, DeLeo said that the House Committee on Ways and Means is continuing to work on the bill with the goal of bringing it up for debate during the current session, which ends in early January.
“Even as the House has grappled with COVID-19 and other pressing issues, we remain committed to addressing sexual violence,” DeLeo said on a Zoom call with more than 70 activists and lawmakers.
DeLeo echoed Gabrieli’s comments about the new Title IX regulations and the danger they pose to students. “These regulations are so hard to understand, especially in an environment where 90 percent of survivors on college campuses do not report an assault,” the speaker said.
In response to questions from the Globe, a spokesman for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, which represents some 60 institutions of higher education in the state, would not say whether the association supports the bill.
But he e-mailed a statement from AICUM president Richard Doherty that said, “We are committed to continuing these discussions to ensure the legislation advances the important work already being done and does not conflict with the new federal regulations that went into effect just one month ago. This issue is simply too important and everyone involved wants to get this right.”
In May, three Northeastern students published an Op-Ed in the student newspaper The Huntington News demanding that AICUM clarify its position on the Every Voice bill.
Whether or not the Legislature addresses the bill toward the end of 2020, some students are back on campuses this month.
Lauren Rothschild, who organizes for Every Voice at Northeastern and coauthored the Huntington News Op-Ed, said their group has heard support for the bill from the leadership on Beacon Hill, but she’s frustrated it hasn’t passed after five years.
“We are trying to push them to take action that matches their word,” Rothschild said.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report. Charlie Wolfson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org