Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.
These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.
Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.
About the bill
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in every five women and one in every 16 men are sexually assaulted while attending college.
However, for a host of reasons, roughly 90 percent of those assaults are not reported to authorities, according to the NSVRC.
State Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery County, has introduced a bill aimed at eliminating at least one of those impediments to reporting.
House Bill 1757 would provide limited immunities from penalties, such as those for drugs and alcohol on campus, for victims and bystanders who report sexual assaults.
“Sadly, most instances of sexual violence go unreported to campus officials or to the police. The silence of bystanders is an obstacle to overcoming this scourge,” Dean wrote in a co-sponsorship letter. “Beyond the difficulty of coming forward itself, victims and Samaritans should not fear further punishment for incidental infractions.”
Dean’s bill would require colleges and universities to institute a policy that the school will not punish a victim or bystander for a drug or alcohol violation who reports an incident of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence or stalking.
Schools that do not institute such a policy would not be eligible for state funds for institutional assistance grants from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
The bill is meant to increase reporting of campus assaults by eliminating the fear of punishment for victims and bystanders.
“It is crucial to remove what obstacles we can, so that students are less afraid to come forward and give voice to their assault, and to protect others,” Dean wrote.
Similar laws have been implemented for witnesses of drug overdoses and have been found to increase reporting incidents to police, according to a study conducted by the University of Washington.