Lawmakers may take up sexual assault awareness

Photo courtesy: The National Sexual Violence Resource Center

This past December, state Sen. Lori Berman of West Palm Beach filed Senate Bill 68, which would make the month of April “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.” It would also establish April 5 as “Start Believing Day” in Florida.

According to a representative of Berman’s, the bill was proposed due to a partnership with multiple stakeholders who are survivors and have invested in the bill and other legislation that Berman has filed in the past regarding the topic.

For the last two senate sessions, Berman has introduced other bills pertaining to sexual assault, specifically about victims’ privacy and anonymity.

Both Berman and Rep. Robin Bartleman proposed the prior bills, Senate Bill 1084 and House Bill 775. Berman intends to refile the bill this session in the hopes that anyone wishing to identify the survivor obtains their written consent, with the exception of various officials.

Abby Ross, Berman’s chief legislative aide, said sexual assault survivors need support.

“We must always believe survivors and work to eradicate sexual assault and sexual harassment. It is OK to tell, and in fact, you should always report a crime to law enforcement,” she said. “Raising awareness and education about these sensitive yet important issues is vital.”

Along with Ross, one of the stakeholders who Berman works with explained how sexual assault impacts students. Kat Duesterhaus, who is a survivor and sexual assault activist, said, “Unwanted sexual contact happens at alarming rates in the college years. Thirteen percent of all college students report experiencing non-consensual sexual contact, either by physical force or inability to consent and for female and LGBTQ+ students, that number jumps to around 25%. This needs to change.”

With Berman’s bill, there is a possibility that it could provide more awareness regarding the subject. Duesterhaus said she thinks the bill might be beneficial.

“Recognizing there is an epidemic and declaring publicly that we start by believing survivors is a great place to start. I truly believe that together we can and will change the statistics of sexual violence,” she said.

Looking at a student’s perspective, Ashley Laurent, a recent graduate of FAMU and the previous president of the Warriors Against Rape club, is an enthusiast supporter of the proposed legislation.

“I think that Senate Bill 68 will truly impact the campus in such a positive way because a lot of students are domestic violence advocates that want to protect and support victims,” she said. “Their identity should be protected on campus, so they don’t have to deal with unnecessary attention and harassment.”

Though Berman’s bill has yet to reach a committee, there’s still a possibility that she can get it passed. In the upcoming weeks, Berman is expected to refile SB 1084 along with other bills. She hopes to pass her domestic violence and human trafficking bills as well.