The University of Connecticut will receive permission and means to hire nurses specialized in the treatment of sexual assault, thanks to legislation signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy on Tuesday. UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said the bill will go into effect July 1 and “the services will be in place and available for the start of the new academic year.”
Proponents of the legislation, which the state senate passed unanimously in April, say having these services on campus will soften the trauma of sexual assault by making specialized treatment more accessible, reducing the number of times victims must relate their experience to medical staff and allowing them to stay on campus while being treated.
Connecticut currently has nurses trained as Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE) in six hospitals throughout the state. The one nearest to the Storrs campus is Windham Hospital, 8 miles away in Willimantic. This requires the many students without access to a car on campus to take an ambulance in order to receive the fullest treatment.
Sen. Mae Flexer, a primary supporter of the bill from Danielson, said these measures would “slightly reduce the trauma that survivors of sexual assault experience.”
The Campus Sexual Assault Study, conducted in 2007 for the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, found that one in five of female college seniors surveyed had been sexually assaulted during their college years.
The legislation comes after UConn has received media attention in recent years concerning sexual assaults on campus. Last year, UConn agreed to a $1.3 million dollar out of court settlement in a federal lawsuit brought by five students who said the university had mishandled their claims of sexual assault and harassment. UConn admitted no fault as part of the settlement.
The university was not required to make any institutional changes as a result of the settlement, but has since created a new assistant dean of students for victim support services, a Special Victims Unit in the UConn Police Department, and two staff investigator positions.
“This is an issue that is dear to President Herbst and all of us at UConn,” Dean of Students Elly Daugherty said of the recent law, “and we’re grateful that legislators heard our students’ concerns and acted quickly and decisively to give us more tools to help them.”
Students spoken to about the legislation appear to come to the general consensus that it’s a positive change but is by no means a definitive solution to what are perceived as broader inadequacies in how sexual assault is treated at universities.
“It makes me a little uncomfortable that there are enough rapes on campus for a specialized nurse to be cost effective,” said Kimberly Armstrong, 5th-semester journalism and environmental studies major (and staff writer for the Daily Campus), “but I assume that would only be part of their job. Paired with preventative measures this will definitely make a difference on campus.”
“I think that having a nurse at UConn that is specifically trained to help victims of sexual assault is a step in the right direction,” said Lauren Colburn, 5th-semester biology and psychology double major, “there is still a lot that needs to be done but I’m happy to see advances like this.” Colburn is also chief financial officer of on campus activist group Revolution Against Rape.
Zoë Esponda, 5th-semester environmental science major, expressed more general concern about current costs of medical treatments for students. “I know friends that avoid the Health Center when they are sick because they get ninety dollar copays with their insurance,” she said, “I hope this won’t be the case with the new staff.”
The Health Center, as stated on its website, “uses a fee-for-service model… for office visits, laboratory services, x-rays, pharmacy items, as well as specialty clinics.” Fees for office visits alone range from “$25 to $250, depending on the type and complexity of the visit.” The fees are added to the student fee bill, sometimes weeks after the appointment.
Still, the move can be viewed, at the very least, as part of a broadening concern for victims of sexual assault and efforts on the part of the state government to alleviate the problems.
“I’m really glad that this is happening,” said Allie Prince, 5th-semester Allied Health Sciences major and secretary of RAR, “and I think that it definitely should have been sooner but I’m glad that they’re really taking action now.”
“I really hope that other colleges and universities follow in UConn’s footsteps,” Prince continued, “I also think that there’s a lot more that needs to be done but for now this is a good step.”