The national “It’s On Us” campaign was launched in 2014 as a means to help put an end to campus sexual assault by educating, engaging and empowering students and communities. Last year, Pennsylvania launched its statewide campaign, “It’s On US, PA” to address sexual assault in schools and on college campuses. In support of this campaign, a Pennsylvania state representative is proposing legislation that would require schools to take a more active role in the prevention of not only sexual assault and harassment, but also bullying.
The state representative notes the link between bullying and sexual violence and emphasizes the need to address bullying where it begins, which is typically in middle school. Under the proposed legislation, the Department of Education would be tasked with developing uniform guidelines for schools regarding how to handle sexual assault, harassment, sexual harassment, dating violence and bullying. Schools would also be required to allow students to anonymously report instances of such abusive behavior.
According to the state representative, states have been doing a better job of combating bullying over the last decade. However, teens and young adults still experience high rates of all types of violence, including sexual assault, bullying, harassment, relationship violence and abuse and neglect. In his memo to lawmakers, the state representative reports that such violence unfortunately often goes unreported. In fact, fewer than one in ten students who experience sexual assault report it to officials. He does not advocate for harsher penalties for those who engage in bullying but rather, he aims to help schools identify ways to stop abusive treatment.
The proposed bill is one of many in a package designed to support the governor’s “It’s On Us” campaign. The other bills would require colleges to offer a way to anonymously report sexual violence, grant reporting individuals amnesty from drug or alcohol policy violations, and adopt affirmative consent standards that require parties’ continual vocal expression of willingness to participate in sexual activities. The Department of Education would also have to create an annual report card for schools and colleges regarding sexual assault and harassment.
These are not the only proposed laws regarding bullying – a state senator has proposed legislation intended to make bullying a crime. Contrary to the state representative’s view that increased punishment is not the answer, the state senator believes that subjecting those who engage in bullying to criminal punishment is necessary because bullying behavior does not always fit into the legal definitions of existing criminal offenses such as assault. With staunch support for both sides of the debate, it remains to be seen which of the proposed bills will be passed into law.
Many new laws have recently been implemented to combat abusive behaviors in schools, including 2015 and 2016 legislation making hazing and cyber-bullying illegal. Pennsylvania lawmakers are now proposing additional legislation which would require schools to take certain steps towards stopping and preventing bullying. MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser provides schools in Chester County, West Chester, Philadelphia, Malvern and throughout Pennsylvania with the knowledgeable counseling they need to ensure their statutory and regulatory compliance. Contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106 to learn more about our services.