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Marblehead’s Lori Ehrlich filed a bill to combat college sexual assault

From left: State Rep. Natalie Higgins, State Rep. Christine Barber, State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, Rep. Ehrlich’s aide Cal Brown, and Rep. Sarah Peake rally outside the Massachusetts State House in support of two bills that would address sexual violence on college campuses. (Courtesy photo)

BOSTON — State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) is working to put an end to an epidemic of campus sexual misconduct.

“Students are too familiar with the stories of courageous victims who have survived assault or who have been subjected to harassment,” said Ehrlich. “In their name, it is up to all of us to step up and ensure that our campuses are safe places of learning, not hunting grounds for sexual violence.”

Ehrlich, who represents the Massachusetts 8th Essex District of Marblehead, Swampscott and Lynn, has introduced a bill that would create a task force charged with developing a survey about sexual assault on college campuses in Massachusetts, with the goal of better understanding attitudes toward and the prevalence of sexual assault on the campuses.

In 2016, there were 344 reported cases of rape at Massachusetts schools, according to a statement from Ehrlich’s office. But the public statistics only account for violence that is reported to law enforcement, she said. National studies estimate that more than 90 percent of sexual assaults are not reported.

“This means that of the more than 250,000 students who arrive on Massachusetts campuses each fall, there will be thousands of victims of sexual assault — most unreported — ever year,” according to the statement.

The legislation was filed along with a bill introduced by Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) that would strengthen campus policy against sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking by requiring all colleges and universities to create and communicate a policy on sexual and gender-based violence.

“As a leader in higher education, Massachusetts must send a message to students that their voices are being heard,” said Ehrlich. “By passing these bills, Massachusetts will take a proactive step in fostering safe learning environments and ending this silent epidemic.”

Last week, Ehrlich and Farley-Bouvier rallied alongside nearly 200 college students outside the Massachusetts State House to urge state leaders to increase student safety from sexual violence.

John Gabriel, co-founder of the Every Voice Coalition, said the message from the rally was heard loud and clear.

“It is time to take action to address the sexual assault epidemic,” said Gabriel.

In addition to Every Voice, several other progressive groups against sexual violence attended the rally, including Know Your IX, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Jane Doe Inc., No More, and End Rape on Campus.

Northeastern University student Katherine Scotti found the rally to be extremely powerful, and demanded the issue be addressed.

“As a current student at Northeastern University, I believe that the issue of sexual violence on college campuses needs to be addressed by lawmakers immediately,” Scotti said. “This silent epidemic has gone on for far too long.”

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