By Maura Lerner
Starting this fall, college students throughout Minnesota will be required to complete training on sexual-assault prevention within their first 10 days of school.
And for the first time, their campuses will have to publicly disclose how many sexual-assault complaints they investigate each year, as well as how many result in disciplinary action.
Those are two of the new mandates in a state law, which takes effect Monday, designed to combat sexual violence on campus.
The law, which was approved by the Minnesota Legislature in 2015, reinforces what many colleges already have been doing, said Amy McDonough, government relations director for the Minnesota Private College Council.
Most schools already offer sessions on sexual assault as part of student orientation, either online or in person, she said. But the new law "requires schools to make sure that students take it."
The law doesn't spell out what will happen if students skip the required training. But they could be barred from registering for future classes until they complete the assignment, McDonough said. "Every campus is going to handle that differently."
The law also requires campuses to provide online options for anonymous reporting of sexual assault.
The goal is to encourage victims to come forward, even if they're not ready to identify themselves, said Yvonne Cournoyer of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who was an adviser on the new law. "The idea was to open it a crack and reduce some of the fear around reporting," she said.
That's already an option at some schools, including the University of Minnesota and many private colleges, officials say.
As part of the law, campuses will be required to report statistical data on sexual-assault complaints for the first time. Starting in October, they will have to provide annual reports to the state on the number of cases investigated, as well as breakdowns on whether anyone was disciplined or received more than a warning at the close of the investigation.
The data will not include details of individual cases because they are protected by confidentiality.
But Cournoyer said the reports should help shed some light on what happens after complaints are filed. "That was kind of a black hole mystery," she said.
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education, which will collect those reports, said it expects to make the information public by December.
In addition, the new law requires schools to have better coordination with law enforcement agencies, and to conduct "comprehensive training" for staffers who work with victims or investigate complaints of sexual assault.
Katie Eichele, who heads a victims' advocacy center at the University of Minnesota, says she hopes the new law will pay off. The goal, she said, is "a safer campus for our students."
(c)2016 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)