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State leader responds to UVM sex assault survivors’ call for change

Published: May. 2, 2021 at 7:01 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - This week, University of Vermont students sparked a massive movement on campus, condemning the administration for how it handles sexual assault cases. Survivors are speaking out, saying the school’s Title IX process failed them. Now, some state leaders are taking action.

Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, tells WCAX News she’s sadly not surprised by these stories. She says now more than ever the state must better support sexual assault survivors on Vermont’s college campuses.

It’s an issue Colburn says she’s been trying to address throughout her seven years serving Burlington. She says that’s largely because countless constituents, many UVM students, have come forward as survivors. Those students are expressing deep frustration with the Title IX process as they struggle to navigate a system they feel rarely achieves justice or offers healing and instead re-traumatizes survivors.

In 2019, Colburn worked on a campus sexual harm task force to tackle the problem. But, the effort was fleeting, as the state only funded the group for six meetings, forcing it to disband.

Now, a bill is moving through the Legislature, H.183, which not only strengthens Vermont’s sexual assault laws but also proposes a permanent intercollegiate sexual violence council. The bill was introduced in February. Members would develop and oversee universal Title IX guidance for all Vermont institutions.

“That’s something a lot of us would like, is just to find more consistency, more ability to pull resources, more ability to jointly define best practices, and to do so in a way that really brings survivors to the table, so they can tell us what their needs are,” Colburn said.

Right now, no local government body exists like it. Colburn says though that provision of the bill passed the House in March, it’s facing pushback in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s scheduled to be taken up again on Tuesday.

Colburn is commending the UVM survivors for their courage and vulnerability. She stresses the administration should take their demands seriously. She’s also available to hear students’ concerns and will do what she can to help.

You can reach Rep. Colburn by email at scolburn@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at 802-233-1358.

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