By Maria Caspani
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Lady Gaga has joined forces with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to push for legislation to crackdown on a rising wave of sexual violence plaguing U.S. universities.
Lady Gaga - herself a victim of sexual assault - and Cuomo issued a joint op-ed urging New York state lawmakers to pass legislation on sexual assault on college campuses.
The call comes after a study last month found sexual violence on U.S. campuses has hit "epidemic levels" with more than 18 percent of female students at one university reporting incidents of rape or attempted rape in their first year.
"Today, too many college students experience sexual assault, too few of the assailants are prosecuted, and too often the survivors lack the resources they need to recover," Lady Gaga and Cuomo wrote in an essay for Billboard magazine.
The bill before New York's legislature would give the state the nation's strongest laws to target campus sexual assault, and "turn the tide on this issue so that students can realize their dreams on campuses that are safe spaces", they said.
Lawmakers have until June 17 to pass the bill introduced by Cuomo earlier this year that would extend a sexual assault prevention and response policy at the State University of New York to all public and private universities in the state.
The legislation, which expands on a law adopted in California last year, includes four points: affirmative consent language, immunity from drug or alcohol violations for students reporting an assault, a bill of rights for the victim, and policy training for all school officials.
The legislation defines consent as a clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.
In New York, less than 5 percent of rapes on college campuses are reported to law enforcement, and only 16 percent of survivors receive victim support, Lady Gaga and Cuomo wrote.
"Making a bad situation worse, college officials sometimes fear negative publicity against their school if assaults are reported to the police," they said.
"As a result, these victims are not only deprived justice, they are denied the opportunity to tell their stories publicly. Being able to speak about such difficult experiences openly is fundamental to easing a survivor’s recovery and to removing the shame that still shrouds sexual assault."
College campuses reported nearly 5,000 forcible sex offenses in 2012 alone, according to U.S. Department of Education data cited on Cuomo's website.
In that time, there were 365 forcible sex offenses reported by campuses in New York State, 72 of which were in New York City.
Lady Gaga, 29, has spoken out in support of the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), and in 2012 launched the Born This Way Foundation to combat bullying and empower children to create a "kinder and braver world".
In an interview last year, she said she was sexually assaulted at age 19 by a producer and that the song "Swine" from her latest album "Artpop" is about rape.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)