Our Opinion: Despite progress, “It’s on Us PA” bills still earn support

September 7th, 2017 6:50 pm

If you are tired of hearing about efforts to curb sexual violence in schools and college campuses, you either aren’t really listening or are missing a key point. This issue keeps coming up because, despite positive changes in recent years, it remains unresolved.

Yes, when Gov. Tom Wolf gathered Wednesday with legislators and advocates to announce plans for proposed legislation as part of his “It’s on us PA” campaign, some people almost surely responded with at least a yawn or worse a “what, this again?” After all, Wolf launched the campaign last year, and that was after several years of federal efforts on the same topic under the administration of President Barack Obama.

And frankly, when it comes to college and university programs to reduce violence against women on campus, local institutions had generally been ahead of the curve before those federal efforts took hold.

So if you feel a bit of fatigue on the topic, it is understandable. It is also wrong, and there are two big, long-term and systemic reasons why.

First, when it comes to violence against women, there are too many people willing to overlook accusations for too many reasons. And if you need proof of this, consider the response to the release of an audio recording in which then-presidential candidate Donald Trump talked of assaulting attractive women and getting away with it because he was a celebrity.

This has absolutely nothing to do with Trump’s politics or performance, or even the comments on the tape. It has to do with the response — too typical in too many cases — of many supporters. People readily dismissed claims of fondling female genitalia without consent as “locker room talk” or “just men talking.”

It isn’t. And if it ever is, it shouldn’t be. The notion that many people — men and women, from on-the-street to former Gotham Mayor Rudy Giuliani — embraced the excuse is proof enough we have not come far enough in our attitude regarding violence against women.

Second, there is a serious concern that many of the sexual assaults and harassment against women remain substantially under-reported. There are studies and surveys that support this claim, and the number of unreported cases is often so high that, even if the validity of some of the data is questionable, the overall trend seems indisputable and indefensible.

In broad strokes, the six bills proposed by Wolf don’t break new ground. They feel rather like expansion or codifications of best practices and existing efforts to improve reporting of alleged assaults and responses to them.

Which is not a bad thing. We can have healthy debate on the burden and value of the new rules, but they should not be dismissed.

Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, summed it up well.

“More reports will not mean a great deal without a commitment by administrators to give allegations a fair and full review,” she said. “The best deterrent is certainty that such crimes will be reported, investigated, and punished consistent with what the evidence warrants.”