Victims of police violence and campus sexual assault got a better opportunity to obtain justice this week, thanks to two actions signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The first, a law he signed on Tuesday, creates a new affirmative standard for sexual consent on college campuses and establishes a new set of rights to ensure that victims' cases are addressed and that perpetrators are held accountable.
The second, an executive order he signed Wednesday, puts the state attorney general in charge of investigating cases in which police kill unarmed civilians or those who might have been unarmed. The action takes these cases out of the hands of local prosecutors and grand juries who tend to favor police over victims.
In both police killings and campus sexual assault cases, the scales of justice have been unbalanced. These two actions will help correct that imbalance.
On college campuses, about 20 percent of women reportedly experience some kind of sexual assault. Colleges notoriously have used their authority over crime on campus to cover up assaults or dissuade victims from coming forward. Existing practices have left many assailants unpunished and many victims without justice.
The new law first will help clear up ambiguity between what constitutes consent, by requiring that both parties clearly state their agreement to a sexual encounter.
We’re not naive. This is not going to prevent all assaults or misunderstandings in date rape cases. But it does establish a clear standard for women and men to follow to reduce the chances of a misunderstanding. With education on the new standard, and when put into practice, it could help reduce assaults.
The law also gives victims the choice to have their cases prosecuted through campus tribunals or law enforcement, and gives students immunity from disciplinary action regarding alcohol or drug use. That immunity might encourage more reluctant victims to come forward.
Following the Eric Garner "choke-hold" death on Staten Island last year and other incidents of police killings of unarmed suspects nationwide, the governor sought legislative approval of an independent review of such cases. Statistics show that grand juries, which are controlled by local prosecutors who must maintain a close working relationship with police, rule disproportionately in favor of police, even when victims are unarmed.
Taking these cases out of local control will ensure a more fair examination of the circumstances, provide a more just outcome, and help restore public confidence in the legal system.
In both campus sex assaults and police killings, the victims this week have won a greater measure of justice, and with that, we hope, a greater measure of protection.