Bill for sexual assault prevention proposed by Senate

ALI SMITH |The Daily Evergreen

One in five female students will report they have been sexually assaulted while in college, and the state Legislature wants to change that.

State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles proposed Washington State Senate Bill 5518, which aims to decrease the number of sexual assault cases occurring on college campuses.

Kohl-Welles said the bill establishes protections for students based on what issues have already been prevalent on college campuses.

“It’s about prevention. How do students become aware of this issue? What policies exist at the universities? Who do they report to?” said Kohl-Welles, questioning the procedures taken by the universities.

Nikki Finnestead, violence prevention coordinator at Washington State University’s Health and Wellness Services, said WSU has already implemented the goals stated by Senate Bill 5518.

When asked about how the bill will change procedures at the university, Finnestead said, “I’m pretty proud of the fact that as a university, we have been doing that already.”

The programs that already exist at WSU include Counseling and Testing Services, Alternatives to Violence on the Palouse and the Green Dot Program.

Specifically, Health and Wellness Services helps to raise awareness across campus through the Green Dot Program, which educates students about the prevalence of sexual assault.

“Every parent wants to feel confident sending their student here,” Finnestead said. “The wonderful thing is that as coordinators, we take a comprehensive approach to creating a safe campus.”

Finnestead said she has seen the changes these programs have made in the culture at WSU.

“Students are telling us that they feel more confident in recognizing and addressing sexual misconduct,” Finnestead said.

Chris Tennant, commander of the Pullman Police Department, said raising awareness is the key to decreasing sexual violence, rather than enforcing additional laws.

“No law that the legislatures are going to pass will make sexual assault go away. It’s about a culture where two people can talk about consent,” Tennant said.

Tennant said that the majority of sexual assault cases are between two acquaintances, not strangers. They usually involve alcohol and usually involve underclassmen.

“If you are old enough to have sex, you are old enough to talk about it. If someone is incapacitated, you can’t have sex with them,” Tennant said.

Kohl-Welles agrees that it is important to establish campus awareness.

“Starting awareness programs is essential to the prevention. We want to make a higher level of campus safety and awareness,” Kohl-Welles said.

As far as WSU’s progress, Tennant said the university is ahead in its efforts to eliminate sexual violence.

“I think that WSU is doing a remarkable job of training the current Green Dot Program and making a difference in the university,” Tennant said.

Senate Bill 5518 passed through the House Higher Education Committee with a unanimous vote, and will now move to the House Appropriations Committee for a vote.