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Campus sexual assault reporting law to take effect ahead of fall semester

The real measure of success will be in a climate survey, which will indicate where assaults occurred and what resources victims utilized.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lotte Parsons, weeks away from a Bowdoin degree, wants to leave a legacy for future students. In March, Parsons pushed the state legislature to pass a bill designed to strengthen campus sexual assault resources.

"An act concerning sexual misconduct on college campuses" passed through the legislature, and Democratic Gov. Janet Milles signed it into law on May 5.

The law creates a 22-member commission that will comprise a diverse group ranging from students to domestic violence caregivers, to the commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The commission will review mandatory annual reports from every higher learning institution in the state.

The law also mandates confidential resource advisors be made available to victims. The advisors don’t have to publicly report if the victim doesn't want that.

Lily James is co-executive director of The Every Voice Coalition, a nonprofit that has helped craft laws in six states, including Maine, and is working on more.

"Together, our bills – and now laws – have impacted a total of 1.7 million students across the country, current students and every future generation of students," she said, smiling.

Maine's community college system reluctantly opposed the bill as it took shape in the legislature. 

Becky Smith, the system's director of government and community relations, testified that it conflicted with or overcomplicated Title IX rules already in place. 

Sally Meredith, assistant general council for the Maine Community College System, said they'd received feedback from students who didn't know help was available to them. She said all seven colleges will use this as an opportunity to let everyone know help has always been there and that help will be even more visible to them moving forward.

"Students [were] saying, 'We didn't know how to access this. We didn't know where it was,'" Meredith said. "OK, we now have a goal in mind, which is how to address that. So, yes, I do see that piece as an opportunity."

The real measure of success, James said, will be in a semi-annual climate survey, which will indicate where assaults occurred and what resources victims utilized, allowing everyone involved to know what works and what doesn't. 

Parsons believes it could have a broad effect.

"The culture of care that that creates, I think, will impact a lot of other spaces beyond just directly campus sexual violence areas," Parsons said.

If that happens, her legacy will only grow with time.

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