With six weeks left in the current legislative session, Governor Cuomo is actively pushing his Enough is Enough campaign. Introduced in February, the campaign calls for a state-wide college campus "affirmative consent" policy, that would eliminate any grey area in which silence on the part of a sexual assault victim might be construed as consent.
New York's 64 SUNY colleges instated the policy last year. If the new legislation passes, consent at both public and private universities would be defined as "a clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity."
According to Cuomo, fewer than 5% of college rapes nationwide are reported to law enforcement officials. Last year California became the first state to pass an affirmative consent law.
Since February, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and former City Council speaker Christine Quinn have been touring the state to promote Enough is Enough, and New York State Police launched a 24-hour hotline dedicated to responding to reports of sexual assault and violence on campuses.
And back in March, Cuomo enlisted Whoopi Goldberg to help spread his message.
Speaking at FIT yesterday, alongside newly-minted Enough is Enough supporter Nancy Pelosi, Cuomo described his proposal as the "toughest law in the nation" in regards to sexual assault on college campuses. “Whether an assault occurs at a public university or a private college, it is a crime and should be treated as such," he said.
Under Cuomo's proposed policy, any student who reports an incident of sexual abuse won't have to worry about being punished for violating campus rules regarding drug or alcohol use. And all students, staff and administrators would be required to participate in sexual-abuse awareness training.
During yesterday's speech, Cuomo also spoke at length in favor of a Sexual Violence Victim/Survivor Bill of Rights to be distributed to all college students, which would remind students that they have the right to report sexual abuse to city or state police, bypassing campus security altogether. The governor decried the current situation at private universities where, he argues, administrators are incentivized to "keep it quiet":
Right now, the majority of the cases are handled by whom? Campus security. And the orientation of the campus administration is make this go away... we don’t want to be in the newspaper the next day, so make it go away. Let her [the victim] go to the police, handle it as the crime it is.... because when you let a person get away with it once, do you know what happens? They do it again.
The NY Times reports that Cuomo's proposal has met some resistance from private colleges and universities, as well as legislators, who believe that the campaign relies heavily on harsh, and potentially unfair, language.
According to the Times, "Some have taken issue with the accuser’s being labeled in the legislation as 'victim' rather than something more neutral." Like Manhattan Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, who told the paper, “All universities have an obligation to be neutral in these circumstances. You cannot prejudice the circumstances by naming one ‘the victim,’ and the other ‘the accused.’”
Columbia University, a private institution that would be directly impacted by Cuomo's legislation, has been at the center of a nationwide discussion of campus rape policy since last fall, when then-undergraduate Emma Sulkowicz began carrying her mattress around campus to draw attention to the administration's mishandling of her alleged rape by fellow-student Paul Nungesser. Last month, Columbia student group No Red Tape projected "Rape Happens Here" and "Columbia Has A Rape Problem" across the front of the Columbia library, during prospective student visits. Soon after, Nungesser, who was cleared of charges for allegedly raping Sulkowicz, sued Columbia for branding him a "serial rapist."