Students reflect on their advocacy for recently passed bill supporting survivors of sexual violence in Massachusetts
Members of the Every Voice Coalition discussed the next steps they will take during Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April.
The Every Voice Coalition — a student- and survivor-led organization working to pass survivor-centered legislation to prevent campus sexual violence — spearheaded efforts to pass a recent Massachusetts bill. After five long years of grassroots advocacy and organizing in which Massachusetts college students played a key role, the bipartisan bill S.2979, commonly known as the Every Voice Bill, was signed into law on Jan. 12, 2021, according to a March 25 email from Bella Fong, Every Voice Coalition National Development Fellow and National Communications Director for Outreach, to the Justice.
Students frustrated with the lack of support for survivors on campuses where rape culture and sexual violence is heavily pervasive wrote and filed the bill in 2015.
Fong explained in an April 2 interview with the Justice that 80% of college campuses reported zero instances of sexual assault in the year of 2015 — a figure that does not portray the realistic number of students who experience sexual assault on campus. These students and survivors called for transparency, rights and protection that were lacking at the time. Every Voice began as a Massachusetts centered group, Fong said, and “it was only earlier this year that Every Voice was recognized as a national movement.”
According to Fong, advocates have come together at a 2018 rally at the State House, the Coalition's 2019 statewide summit, the 2020 virtual advocacy day and at various other hearings to advocate for this bill. A version of the bill was first passed in New Hampshire in June 2020, according to the organization’s website. Similar versions have since been filed in Connecticut, Hawaii and Illinois, with plans to refile bills in the 2021 legislative session in these states. There are also plans to file new bills in Maine, Nevada and New Mexico this year.
“The Every Voice Bill will enact comprehensive measures to combat sexual violence and support survivors studying at Massachusetts' colleges and universities,” the website states. More specifically, the legislation will ensure the following, per the Coalition’s website:
- “Access to free medical and legal support services
- Anti-retaliation protections for reporting parties from being punished for breaking school code of conduct at the time of an assault
- Confidential advising services that clarify survivors' rights and options
- Transparent data on sexual violence, gathered anonymously and published publicly
- Universal, evidence-based annual prevention and response training for employees and students.”
Fong and Coalition member Kristianna Lapierre ’24 explained that COVID-19 spurred their involvement in the Coalition's work. The pandemic gave Fong “all of this time to reflect, whether you wanted to or not” about her past experiences as a survivor, which prompted her decision to join. When she came across Every Voice, she felt compelled to look into the organization and has since been involved in grant writing, communication, recruitment efforts and more on behalf of the Coalition. Lapierre joined Every Voice in December 2020 after finding the organization through a “random Google search.” She said she was overwhelmed by the previous summer’s influx of anonymous Instagram accounts, such as @blackatdeis, and the expanding media coverage of violence on college campuses. Stepping onto campus for the first time in the midst of that environment was “frightening … and at some points you feel hopeless” because there is an issue at hand that no one seems to be addressing, she said.
Informing students on survivor and student rights has always been a challenge, Fong said. However, she expressed hope in this bill’s ability to bring much needed awareness to the issue. The Coalition is currently focusing on the implementation of the bill, and the organization is also working toward increasing the visibility of the Every Voice bill. Throughout the month of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the group will be programming via their Instagram account and Zoom.
Of 19.7 million college-aged students, 1 in 10, or almost two million students, will experience sexual violence in their time in college, Fong said. Defining the issue of sexual assault both broadly and specific to the concerns of college students has become crucial to the Coalition’s programming. Their April line up is divided into weeks, each with a specific theme that the Coalition will focus on. They will define the issue during week one, go over self-care strategies in the second week or “week zero,” share survivor resources during week three and review the five core principles and components of the bill in the last week.
“Personal success has become a mantra,” Fong said. “It’s not just the laws we pass. It’s the lives we change.” The core of this work is to help survivors find their voice and have a better healing experience, the two said. The presence of survivors and young people in this work is particularly inspiring and integral to the organization's vision, Lapierre explained. “Young people do have power, and we can make change,” she said.