The Senate passed a bill to help survivors of sexual assault on Maine’s college campuses on Friday, voting 28-2 after hearing emotional testimony from numerous senators who spoke about being sexually assaulted as teens and young adults.

Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Cumberland, speaks on the bill, L.D. 2003 at the State House in Augusta on Friday. Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, said she had been sexually assaulted twice, once by someone she knew and once by someone she did not. As she spoke about the need to change a culture that she said allows for men to objectify others, members of the Senate looked up at her and nodded in assent.

“I invite everyone who is passionate about this issue to bring a bill next session that talks about the people who perpetrate sexual assault,” she said. “Please, work on that and move the dial on that.”

The bill, which also passed the House and is now headed to Gov. Janet Mills, would require colleges and universities to bolster their efforts to prevent sexual violence, provide additional resources to students alleging they experienced sexual violence and require institutes of higher education to participate in a statewide survey about sexual violence on campus.

Colleges and universities around the state – both public and private – opposed the bill, saying it duplicates federal law and would cause confusion.



Sexual assault on college campuses is a national problem. Over 26 percent of undergraduate females and almost 7 percent of undergraduate males experience sexual assault on campus, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. That means around 7,500 current undergraduate students in Maine have or will experience sexual assault, assuming the statistic holds true for the state.

Sen. Joe Rafferty, D-Kennebunk, read testimony to his colleagues from a Maine-born college student about the dire warnings of sexual assault her mother gave her the day she dropped her off at the University of Maine Orono. She couldn’t bring herself to tell her mother she had already been assaulted while a student in high school, where there were few resources in place to help a victim manage the trauma, she said in the testimony.

When Rafferty moved on to talk about leaving his own daughters at college and counting on the school to protect them, he became emotional, choking on his words.

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said he was raped when he was a teenager and continually harassed by figures of authority in his life.

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Kennebec, speaks on the bill, L.D. 2003, at the State House in Augusta on Friday. Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Hickman said the bill was especially important because it would provide another option for reporting sexual misconduct. Currently, the federal law that guides sexual assault reporting allows for the cross-examination of those reporting it.

“As a survivor of a brutal rape in a public place at the age of 15 and as a survivor of continued harassment and abuse by both a teacher and preacher … to think that I would have to be cross-examined if I tried to tell to a grown-person who ought to have known better about that situation,” he said.


At an earlier hearing on the bill, Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono, said she was raped in college and that the university did not seem to have a plan to support her. “In Maine, there is still no statewide policy,” she said.

Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, and Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, voted against the resolution.


Woodsome, who said he was asked to speak on behalf of Maine public and private colleges, said the bill wasn’t necessary because much of what it would require schools already are mandated to do under federal law and that the proposals would make reporting more complicated for sexual assault survivors by adding additional layers of bureaucracy.

Woodsome urged the Senate to instead adopt an amendment to call for a study of sexual assault on Maine’s campuses.

“The last thing we should be doing is passing more bills that sound good but may actually create more barriers and confuse students during an already difficult time,” he said.


But the bill’s sponsor, Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash, said Woodsome’s call to hold off on action and further study the issue was disingenuous given that the bill has been in the works for two years.

“It’s not to say the universities are a bad place or anything like that,” Jackson said from the floor. “It’s to say that there’s still a problem and if we could do something to make it better then why wouldn’t we want to do that. I think this bill is a help.

“It’s something that young people from across the state – something young people from across the country – have been asking for. It’s something we should do to maybe make it better for other people going through this.”


Jackson wrote the bill, L.D. 1727, with help from the Every Voice Coalition, a youth-led group working to end sexual violence on college campuses across the country by passing legislation written by students and focused on supporting survivors. Every Voice has passed sexual assault legislation in five states, including in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The bill would require institutes of higher education to work to prevent sexual assault and support survivors by designating advisers who can provide confidential support to students, participating in a statewide survey about sexual assaults on campus and providing contact information for sexual assault support centers and medical facilities with trained sexual assault forensic examiners, among many other things.


Compared to the original version of the bill, the amended version weakens the state’s ability to enforce compliance and slightly narrows the definition of sexual assault, replacing the words “sexual misconduct” with “sexual violence, intimate partner violence or stalking.”

In a hearing on the bill in its original form before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee in March, representatives from colleges and universities around the state pushed back against the bill. They said although sexual violence on campuses is pervasive, the bill was unnecessary, duplicated federal law and would cause confusion.

In opposition testimony at the March hearing, the University of Maine System Director of Equal Opportunity and Title IX Coordinator Amie Parker said that the system’s current policy illustrates that the system is already committed to creating a safe campus and is intolerant of sexual violence.

But current and recently graduated college students, some who helped write the bill, told a different story.

They said the way institutes of higher education currently support sexual assault survivors doesn’t meet the need and that having more options will return autonomy to students and help catch anyone who might fall through the cracks in the current system of sexual assault reporting on college campuses.



Federal laws – primarily Title IX – govern how college campuses respond to instances of sexual misconduct.

Title IX is most well known for its impact on high school and college athletics – mandating that schools provide equal access to sports for males and females. But the 1972 civil rights law has a much wider scope – prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex at all schools, colleges and other agencies that receive federal funding.

Under the law, sexual harassment and violence are considered discrimination.

The law requires all schools to have at least one person in charge of enforcing the law, often called a Title IX coordinator. Any person – student, faculty or staff – who feels they have experienced sexual violence on campus can file a complaint with that person.

The authors of the sexual violence bill passed by Maine’s House and Senate on Friday said there are problems with Title IX in its current form – including a narrow definition of sexual harassment and regulations that exempt schools from having to respond to off-campus incidents – and that their bill will help fill gaps left by Title IX.

Margaret Nagle, the interim executive director of communications for the University of Maine System, said the system looks forward to continuing its work to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.

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