New York state has the most pending campus sexual assault cases than any state in the country. Nineteen cases are listed on the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation list. But now that colleges and universities are armed with solid legal policies and procedures what are students being told about prevention and reporting?
Campus sexual assault may be reported more often, but some students are still victims. For example, a female SUNY Buffalo State student reported an alleged assault inside her dorm room at the start of the fall semester. A 17-year old student was charged with sexual abuse, forcible touching and burglary.
Just days before the alleged attack it was move-in day. For freshmen, dorm life is a new territory so the college has been working to create a heightened awareness. Buffalo State launched the "I Love Consent" campaign to teach students to recognize the difference between consent and sexual violence.
The campus also is holding "consent workshops." Buffalo State student Morgan Allender attended one of the workshop, saying she worries about safety for herself and classmates.
"It's a push in the right direction and I think they are doing the right thing and I'm going to support what they are doing no matter what," said Allender.
"Just knowing that 'no means no' and 'yes means yes' and just because you're in a relationship doesn't mean you're entitled to anything," responded a Buff State student who did not want to give his name and only identified himself as a senior who lives on campus, But he emerged from the workshop realizing the meaning of 'consent.'
Campus sex assault has been around for a long time, but now it's no longer considered taboo to discuss.
Jason Parker is diversity program coordinator at Buffalo State. He and Paula Madrigal, with the college's health program, conduct the workshops together.
"Pretty much with every workshop it's planting the seed -- this is not the only time they will see our consent program, and so they're going to get the message eventually. So we're going to change the conversation and we've started a culture on campus that doesn't support sexual assaults," stated Parker.
"There have been students who have been victims. There have been students who realize they have a friend who may have confided in them," said Madrigal.
Madrigal said it’s important to talk about sex with students.
"It's been really interesting to see a lot of the 'ah ha' moments with the students and then when we do start talking about this, honestly, we meet them with where they are at. We are using their language. It is something that resonates with them," responded Madrigal.
Some students won't report sexual assaults to local police agencies. That's up to the victim. But the state's new "Enough Is Enough" law was designed to directly assist students, informing them they have the right to report an assault directly to a police agency.
"These young women are victims, they're suffering significant harm that could impact them for the rest of their lives," said Ernie Allen, former president of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Allen said schools need to execute the new law correctly it not only will help a victim, but protect the reputation of their institutions.
"And the most important thing that can happen is that we build systems in colleges and universities, in Buffalo and across New York and America in which h they have confidence, so they will come forward and tell somebody," Allen stated.
"Enough is Enough" requires first responders to notify a victim of their right to file a criminal complaint. Amanda Lowe is an Associate Attorney at Phillips Lytle Law Firm in Buffalo.
"They will also be entitled to have access to a sexual assault nurse examiner and schools should assist with providing them with information with how to go about and see that person," noted Lowe.
Back on the Buffalo State campus student body president Derek Jorden serves on the college’s judicial council, helping to review and rule on difficult cases.
"So I can sit in these hearings and I can say, 'this isn't what we talked about -- this is consent - this is not consent', and so it helps us to make decisions," stated Jorden.
Jorden had just completed a recent case that involved a consent issue.
"You've got to keep digging. You've got to keep asking questions, just to say you know you're getting kicked out because of something you may not have done, you know. You know you didn't know. It's just you didn't know, so let's teach you so that you do know so that you won't end up in those situation where you are sitting in front of a board saying I do not want to be dismissed from school," responded Jorden.