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Cuomo Launches Awareness Campaign to Fight Sexual Assault on Campus

By Danielle Tcholakian | September 2, 2015 6:35pm
 Gov. Andrew Cuomo at New York University on Sept. 2, 2015,  announcing an awareness campaign at the start of the 2015-2016 school year for his
Gov. Andrew Cuomo at New York University on Sept. 2, 2015, announcing an awareness campaign at the start of the 2015-2016 school year for his "Enough Is Enough" legislation to combat campus sexual assault.
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NY Governor's Office

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Sexual assault victims will no longer be "interrogated" or made to feel "discouraged or embarrassed when reporting a crime" amid a statewide overhaul of how law enforcement and schools respond to reports of rape on college campuses, state officials said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico kicked off an awareness campaign at New York University Wednesday morning to tout changes to state law regarding sexual assault as students head back to school.

"Our goal here is to protect each and every student that attends college in New York State," said D'Amico, a 26-year veteran of the NYPD and former investigator for the attorney general. "We won't tolerate police agencies or campus security who don't take it seriously."

The "Enough Is Enough" law, enacted in July, applies to all public and private universities in New York and establishes a "statewide amnesty policy" so that students who report assault cannot get in legal trouble for underage drinking or using drugs.

It also created a specific State Police unit dedicated to working with student sexual assault victims, which D'Amico said "will go beyond the usual law enforcement and training" by forging partnerships with student groups and providing special training to sexual assault nursing advocates to make sure evidence gets to labs carefully and efficiently.

"Victims need to understand, you're not alone in this," D'Amico said. "State police and law enforcement are here to help. [Victims] shouldn't feel discouraged or embarrassed when reporting crime."

Perhaps most importantly, Cuomo and Quinn said, the law clearly defined "affirmative consent" and emphasized that the onus will no longer be placed on the victim to fight off or reject sexual contact.

"Why for so long were we discussing how loudly you screamed 'no' rather than how firmly you said 'yes'?" asked Quinn, who joined the governor's office as a special advisor on campus sexual assault in January.

Cuomo added that female victims shouldn't be "interrogated" or "on the stand," when reporting a crime to law enforcement.

"The burden is not on the woman," Cuomo said. "It's not about, 'Did the woman say no before she was attacked?' It's whether or not the woman said yes."

Quinn said the new law will provide clarity "so schools can be held accountable or given assistance if that's what they need.

"It prevents schools from sweeping those crimes under the rug," she said.

Quinn and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul will tour colleges all over the state in the coming weeks handing out a wallet-sized card that describes the law and includes a contact information for the state police's 24-hour hotline.

The governor made a point of praising NYU for hosting the event.

"Not surprisingly, not every school wanted us coming here talking about this issue," the governor said. "But NYU was very progressive and very welcoming."

According to statistics provided by the state, there were 10 "forcible sex offenses" on NYU's campus from 2009 to 2013. Columbia University, by comparison, reported 54 on-campus "forcible sexual offenses."

Columbia is currently being sued by a male student who says the school enabled a female student who accused him of sexual assault to "harass" him.

After the school deemed the male student, Paul Nungesser, "not responsible" for the assault, the female student, Emma Sulkowicz, carried a mattress at all times as a school-approved art project and a public effort to have him expelled or force him to leave the school.