TRENTON — Hoping to prompt colleges and universities to take more action against sexual assault, state legislators are considering a bill that would fine the institutions for not doing enough.

On Monday, legislation sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale was approved by the Senate Higher Education Committee that would impose a $10,000 fine on institutions of higher education that fail to appropriately respond to a student’s allegation of sexual assault by another student.

Additionally, the bill would require the secretary of higher education to impose appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator if the allegation is substantiated.

The bill is one of seven currently introduced in the New Jersey Legislature to address the ongoing issue of sexual assault on college campuses.

Stockton University was hit with seven lawsuits this summer from current and former students alleging sexual assault and discrimination, many specifically tied to an off-campus, non-sanctioned fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, and its members. The lawsuits allege the university did not do enough to the protect the students from danger or ensure access to education. The university has said it has done everything it can.

According to Vitale’s office, in 2016, there were 138 reported rapes at New Jersey four-year colleges and universities, a 24 percent increase from the previous year.

Vitale’s bill heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Meanwhile, several other bills are being considered, including one co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, that would establish a commission on campus sexual assault.

The bill was introduced in January.

“Sexual assault violence is a widespread social problem that needs to be dealt with head on,” said Brown. “Mothers and fathers all over New Jersey send their children to college expecting them to be safe, not to become victims, which is why we need to do everything possible to protect our families’ loved ones from predators.”

Brown cited data from the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault that up to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of men experience sexual violence.

“It takes courage for women who are victims to come forward. We need to match their courage with action,” said Brown.

The proposed commission would consist of 12 members including the secretary of higher education, the attorney general and the director of the Division on Women in the Department of Children and Families; five public members from higher education and a representative of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault; and four public members with expertise or interest in issues related to the work of the commission, including at least one individual who is a campus sexual assault survivor.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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