New state law breaks down barriers to reporting sexual harassment


Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto/Zuma Press/TNS

Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed legislation mandating that all universities in the state must create anonymous online reporting systems for complaints about sexual harassment and violence.

By Jon Moss, News Editor

A new Pennsylvania law requires universities to make reporting incidents of sexual harassment or violence incidents easier for victims and witnesses.

Gov. Tom Wolf held a signing ceremony Monday for the provisions, which were included as part of the recently passed package of bills for the state budget.

A key section of the legislation mandates that all universities in the state able to grant an associates’ degree must create anonymous, online reporting systems for complaints about sexual harassment and violence. Universities are also required to investigate all complaints, whether or not the incident’s reporter gives their name.

The law requires universities to adopt a written policy on sexual harassment and violence, which informs victims of their federal and state rights under law. It also mandates universities to not sanction witnesses or victims who report the incident in good faith if, at the time of the incident, they were in violation of University drug or alcohol policies.

Wolf said in a press release that he commended students and educators who have embraced the need to change campus culture.

“This bipartisan effort gives a voice to survivors and witnesses to report sexual assaults and break the silence that’s too often part of campus culture,” Wolf said. “Sexual assault must never be tolerated and the reforms in these new laws create a path for more legislative progress in the future.”

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said in an email that the University’s Title IX Office has maintained a reporting system consistent with the new law since 2016.

“We are proud that the University of Pittsburgh implemented the option of anonymous reporting for victims of sexual assault in 2016,” Zwick said. “We applaud the state legislature for making these best practices the new standard for all universities and schools across the Commonwealth.”

Zwick added that the law’s drug and alcohol amnesty policies have already been adopted at Pitt, citing sections of the University’s Student Code of Conduct.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-23, represents Oakland in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and sponsored the legislation. He said in a press release that the new law results in safer campuses by making reporting sexual harassment or violence more acccessible.

“We need to ensure that Pennsylvania’s campuses are safe, welcome spaces for all students,” Frankel said. “This meets students where they are at and breaks down barriers and formalities that can be intimidating to someone who has just suffered a life-altering traumatic event.”