[r63] Boosting public awareness of Indiana's lifeline law

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, August 29, 2014

Thousands of college students are now back in the classroom. This can be a huge adjustment, especially for freshman. They are miles away from their friends and families, they are not familiar with the area, classes are more rigorous and for many, this is their first glimpse at life as an adult.

While college is a great way to meet people from all walks of life, it can also expose students to situations that they might not be accustomed to. In some cases, this newly acquired independence, coupled with a lack of parental supervision for the first time, can lead to poor decision making.

In 2013, the Indiana Collegiate Action Network gathered information from 6,660 students from 11 Indiana colleges. Forty-one percent of students who responded reported binge drinking in the last two weeks, 39 percent of whom were underage. It is no secret that excessive alcohol can quickly lead to a life-threatening situation, so what happens if you are drinking underage and a friend needs help? Do you risk getting convicted of a crime and hesitate while someone’s life is in the balance?

Individuals in these situations are forced to make a decision, but here in Indiana, we want that decision to be clear. While I do not condone underage or excessive drinking, my colleagues and I believe that someone’s life is more important than a conviction.

Two years ago, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Lifeline Law. Under this law, someone who finds themself in the situation I described could call 911 for their friend and receive immunity against underage drinking, provided that they are completely cooperative with law enforcement and emergency responders.

During the most recent legislative session, the state also expanded this law to include legal protection to minors, who are under the influence of alcohol, and call to report a medical emergency or crime, such as a sexual assault.

According to the United States Department of Justice, one out of every six American women has been the victim of a rape or an attempted rape. These are alarming statistics, and what is more alarming is the fact that many sexual assaults are never reported, meaning that the numbers could very well be higher. By giving the victims of sexual assault immunity for alcohol-related offenses, we hope to become one step closer towards ensuring justice for these victims.

However, this legislation alone is simply not enough to keep students safe. In order for it to be effective, students must know that these safeguards are in place for their protection. That is why on the first day of Welcome Week at many state universities, a campaign was launched to raise awareness and teach kids about the dangers of binge drinking.

If your kids are anything like mine, they are glued to their cellphones constantly, so when it came time to develop the best way to reach as many students as possible, we knew just the way to do it. At 13 college campuses across the state, two million messages will be sent out over the next three weeks to provide information regarding underage drinking and the Lifeline Law. Additionally, students will begin to see information about the Lifeline Law whenever they log onto Facebook, YouTube and Pandora.

We were all young at one point, and inevitably, everyone makes mistakes. Together, we must continue to educate both parents and students about the options that this life-saving law provides. By combining legislative action with local awareness, we can help make Indiana a better and safer place for everyone.