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June 26, 2017

N.J. panel: Schools should teach kids about sexual assault and consent

Teaching about sexual assault and consent in middle school and high school would help keep students safer in college, a New Jersey panel says.

The New Jersey Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault recommended doing just that in New Jersey school districts in a wide-ranging, 39-page report released Monday. The task force said sexual violence education needs to start in the home and continue in middle and high schools.

The task force, created through a bill signed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2015, recommended creating a separate panel to look into the idea.

"College is too late to begin such education," the report states.

The task force also said students need to be taught where they can confidentially report an incident of sexual violence.

"Students should be accurately educated on the role of law enforcement so they can make informed decisions regarding reporting," the task force found.

Federal law already requires education for new students and employees at colleges and universities.

In New Jersey, schools are already required to teach age-appropriate content about dating violence and sexual assault prevention, a spokesman for the Department of Education told NJ.com. David Saenz told the site that local school districts decide how to teach the content and whether to discuss the definition of consent.

The panel also recommends all colleges in New Jersey collect data through a sexual violence campus climate survey every three to four years.

Federal statistics show that about one-in-five women experience sexual violence while in college, with the majority of it happening during their freshman year.

The panel also said the institutions themselves need to make sure sexual assault cases are handled fairly. Students' rights need to be protected and the survivors and the accused need to be equally represented, the report states.

"Each college and university should develop an investigation and adjudication model that honors the survivor, the respondent, and the particular needs, character and philosophy of the college or university," the report reads.

Investigations should be separate from adjudications in campus sexual assault cases, and all colleges should work with county-based rape crisis centers so help and expertise is always available, the task force said.