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UConn faces assault hearing

Several Connecticut state legislators are calling for a public hearing on a university’s sexual assault policies — but despite pending federal investigations at UNC-CH, the issue has not yet been raised in the N.C. General Assembly.

Last month, Connecticut Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Republican, and House Republican Leader Larry Cafero drafted a letter to several committees in the legislature requesting they hold a joint public hearing with the University of Connecticut after seven current and former students filed a federal discrimination suit against the university for mishandling their sexual assault complaints.

In the hearing, legislators hope to learn the numbers of sexual assaults reported and details about how cases move forward within the university, said Pat O’Neil, spokesman for the Connecticut House Republicans.

“We need a full account of the policies and procedures that U.Conn. functions on,” O’Neil said.

“We need a full hearing of exactly how this system of reporting and responding to these allegations of sexual abuse, and in some cases rape, are handled.”

While an official decision on the hearing has not been made, O’Neil said they are confident it will take place based on the resounding support seen thus far — and he said he hopes it will happen as soon as possible.

Several Democrats from the Senate and the House have signed onto the Republicans’ request, O’Neil said, and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy also released a statement expressing his support.

“One of the most basic responsibilities of our institutions of higher learning is to keep our young people safe,” Malloy said in the statement. “If they have failed in that responsibility in any way, or if any victim of sexual assault has been treated with anything but the utmost respect, I will be outraged.”

N.C. Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, a member of the Senate’s higher education committee, said she is hoping to start a discussion among her colleagues in the N.C. General Assembly on how to address sexual assault within the UNC system.

She said in her 12 years in the legislature, she has not seen members call for a public hearing on the issue — but she added that it could happen in the future.

“Certainly, as policymakers for the state, we have a moral responsibility to ensure when complaints are filed … we must ensure these complaints are investigated by police and followed up by the proper authorities,” Parmon said.

UNC senior Andrea Pino, who filed a joint complaint with the U.S. Department of Education about UNC’s handling of sexual assault cases and now advocates against sexual assault on campuses, said campus violence doesn’t seem like a top priority for North Carolina.

Pino said California legislators approved an audit of the state’s public universities to see how they deal with sexual assault — a sign of politicians, like in Connecticut, taking the issue of sexual assault seriously, she said.

But Pino said the chances of a public hearing in North Carolina are slim because the state is politically red, a contrast to the liberal mindset of New England.

O’Neil said the hearing garnered bipartisan support in Connecticut because sexual assault shouldn’t be politicized.

And the seven women who filed the complaint against U.Conn. came forward publicly, which might make their case more credible, he said.

“They weren’t anonymous,” he said. “They showed their faces and gave their names.”

Pino said putting a personal story to the issue gives it power.

“It’s not about us being defined as rape victims,” she said. “It’s about us being the face of sexual assault awareness. Jane Doe gets a real name. It’s now a real issue.”

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