Warren E. Tolman, former Democratic state senator and attorney general hopeful, wants to change the way Massachusetts colleges and universities address sexual assault if he’s elected. Last week, he released a five-point plan focused on transparency, accountability, and continued education that aims to adjust the response to an issue that occurs regularly on campuses across the nation.
“We’re blessed to have the finest institutions of higher education in the world right here in the Commonwealth, making Massachusetts a magnet for very talented students,” Tolman said in a press release. “We will do all that we can to make sure that our schools are the safest.”
Tolman’s five-point plan emphasizes the necessity for colleges and universities to report all incidents of sexual assault, both on and off campus, in confidence that confrontation of the problem will lead to its solution. This element is verbalized in two of the plan’s points: increased transparency and standardized reporting.
“If you look at the range of occurrences of sexual assault based on reporting, there are schools with tens of thousands of students that report incidents in the single digits, and schools with under two thousand students reporting more than twice that,” Tolman said in a conference call with student journalists. “This is a problem that cuts across all schools-I think we have a problem with underreporting and not comparing what is a sexual assault on campus A to what is classified as a sexual assault on campus B.”
If he is elected, Tolman’s office plans to require each school in Massachusetts to submit annual Clery Act crime reports, which require the disclosure of campus crime to the Department of Education and to the attorney general so that students, faculty, and families can be informed on instances of assault. The plan also includes the creation of a Liaison on Campus Assault position that will work with other Attorney Generals as well as the Department of Education to investigate the annual reports.
Cooperation among colleges and universities in the form of an annual summit is at the top of Tolman’s list. The Attorney General’s office plans to bring together college leaders, presidents, campus police, students, athletic directors, coaches, and advocacy groups in order to address and improve responses to campus sexual assault.
“We want to ensure that colleges are looking at these incidents in the same manner and reporting them accordingly,” Tolman said in the conference call. “It’s very important that safety and wellbeing be first and foremost along with receiving a good education.”
“We need a comprehensive approach to change the culture of these campuses, because letting one more assault occur is unacceptable,” said Tolman according to the press release. “As attorney general, I will send a message to our colleges and universities that they need to be educating our young men and women to understand the signs of assault and intervene.”
Education strategies as well as increased accountability round out the plan, both of which will ensure that campuses are as supportive as possible in both intervention and prevention of incidents.
“Introducing male and female college students to bystander training to learn intervention strategies will be central to combating this scourge,” Tolman said. “When a woman is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault if she goes to college, we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed.”