With just over one week left for New York state lawmakers to act before the end of this year’s legislative session on June 17, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has joined forces with Lady Gaga and co-written an op-ed, given exclusively to Billboard, pledging support for his comprehensive sexual assault policy at the state’s public college campuses.
Cuomo introduced legislation in February to make this policy apply to all of New York’s campuses, including private universities, and launched the Enough Is Enough campaign in support of the bill. Gaga revealed in a December 2014 interview with Howard Stern that she was a victim of sexual assault by a producer roughly 20 years her senior when she was 19 and has become vocal on the issue. (The song “Swine” from her ARTPOP album was inspired by the ordeal.) Cuomo has begun screening Hunting Ground, a documentary about the sexual-assault epidemic on college campuses that was written and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (The Invisible War) and features a new Gaga song on the subject – “Till it Happens to You” – in the film. Here are their words.
Every fall, young men and women head off to colleges across the country, dreaming of bright futures and the experience of a lifetime. They’ve worked hard for the chance to become a part of their new campuses, and they set out full of hope and excitement.
Unfortunately, for thousands of these students that dream turns into a nightmare because of the unacceptable epidemic of sexual violence that is currently plaguing colleges and universities. It is a shocking reality that many in academia, government, and society in general still refuse to acknowledge.
We all have a responsibility to make sure that the strongest possible laws are in place to safeguard our students. Thankfully, New York has an opportunity to stand up for its students and take the critical steps toward facing this crisis head on. The bill currently before the New York State legislature will address the issue of sexual violence on college campuses, giving the state the nation’s strongest laws to target campus sexual assault. This is a campaign that will protect students, and it’s exactly what we need.
Today, too many college students experience sexual assault, too few of the assailants are prosecuted, and too often the survivors lack the resources they need to recover. In New York, fewer than five percent of rapes that occur on college campuses are reported to law enforcement and just 16 percent of survivors receive support from a victim services agency.
Making a bad situation worse, college officials sometimes fear negative publicity against their school if assaults are reported to the police. Instead of involving law enforcement, these cases are often handled as campus disciplinary issues and many offenders avoid meaningful consequences. A 2010 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that just a quarter of the individuals responsible for sexual assault were permanently removed from campus – and in some cases, that figure was as low as 10 percent.
As a result, these victims are not only deprived justice, they are denied the opportunity to tell their stories publicly. Being able to speak about such difficult experiences openly is fundamental to easing a survivor’s recovery and to removing the shame that still shrouds sexual assault.
This situation is unacceptable. The likelihood that college students are not getting the assistance and support they deserve is heartbreaking, and the knowledge that sexual predators are left free to attack again is criminal. This bill will tackle this crisis head-on, because the status quo needs to change.
Sexual assaults are not just violations of local campus rules – they are crimes that must be treated as such. Victims must know that they have the right to call the police, and they must be supported in their recovery, regardless of whether that could mean negative publicity for their school.
Last year, the Governor’s office asked the state’s public university system to step up on this issue. They did. Now, every public college student in New York is protected by a strong policy against sexual assault. But without changing New York’s laws, private colleges don’t have to live up to the same standard. That’s why the state legislature must pass the proposed bill. Without it, students at private institutions are more likely to be left at risk.
We have a responsibility to the young men and women of this country to stand up against sexual violence everywhere. Everyone – from lawmakers and educators to advocates like Born This Way Foundation and the students themselves – need to join forces on this issue. Together, we must create the scaffolding necessary to foster the mental, emotional, and physical health of all young people.
By passing legislation such as the bill currently before the New York State legislature, we can turn the tide on this issue so that students can realize their dreams on campuses that are safe spaces. That’s why we are joining together to take a stand against sexual assault on college campuses. Quite simply, enough is enough.