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University of Virginia Sexual Assault Policies Subject to Change

The+famous+rotunda+at+the+University+of+Virginia.
The famous rotunda at the University of Virginia.

The famous rotunda at the University of Virginia.

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/gargola87/3252667766/

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/gargola87/3252667766/

The famous rotunda at the University of Virginia.

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As the Class of 2016’s senior year begins to swing into full effect, many Seniors are left with a myriad of decisions make regarding their post-high-school education.

“Where do I want to go to college? Can I get into where I want to go? Can I pay for it?” The list goes on and on.

But one question few Seniors, especially girls looking to live on their own for the first time, ask themselves when researching colleges is whether or not the campus of the university they plan on attending is a safe environment to live and work in.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), “It is estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year, (but) less than five percent of completed or attempted rapes against college women were reported to law enforcement.”

Five percent. That’s it.

Admittedly, many issues can come into effect when considering why college-related sexual assaults often go unreported, but certainly one of the greatest is whether or not the college the heinous crime is committed at upholds their responsibilities under the Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments to, “combat gender-based violence and harassment, and respond to survivors’ needs in order to ensure that all students have equal access to education.” (NSVRC)

In a list published by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), it is stated that, “as of Sept. 16, 2015 there are 163 sexual violence cases under investigation at 139 postsecondary institutions.”

Many of these colleges, including Virginia’s own University of Virginia (who is no stranger to sexual assault allegations), underwent extensive investigations as a direct result of their failure to comply with the conditions of Title IX, prompting some to revise their sexual assault policies.

As written in a letter by OCR regarding University of Virginia, “In July 2015, the University revised its policy and procedures to satisfy Title IX requirements; OCR finds that as written, this policy and accompanying procedures comply with the requirement of Title IX that grievance procedures provide for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints. The University has, among other efforts, created and filled a dedicated Title IX Coordinator position; expanded investigative capacity in the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs; created and filled a Prevention Coordinator position in the Office of the Dean of Students to develop, evaluate, implement, and assess evidence-based prevention strategies that seek to reduce sexual assault, gender-based violence and “high-risk activities in student organizations”; reviewed and enhanced training and prevention programs for students and employees, including alcohol education programming and other student outreach efforts; secured funding to hire additional mental health counselors; and developed a Title IX website to provide a central resource for Title IX resources and educational materials.”

But of course, these changes do not absolve the university of its past sins. The letter continues to state, “The University had four policies pursuant to which it handled complaints of sexual violence since the opening of OCR’s review: one that was in place from 2005 through July 2011 (Sexual Assault Policy), another that was in place from July 2011 through March 2015 (Sexual Misconduct Policy), a third that covered the period from March 2015 to July 2015 (Interim Policy), and a policy that has been in place since July 2015 (Policy on Sexual and Gender-based Harassment). OCR finds that the Sexual Assault Policy and the Sexual Misconduct Policy (SMP) did not provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee complaints in violation of Title IX…OCR further finds that the University’s informal resolution process as set forth in the Sexual Misconduct Policy was not equitable either to complainants or to accused students in that it permitted the University to impose sanctions on the basis of an admission without an independent investigation. OCR also finds that the University’s handling of some complaints filed under the formal hearing process was not prompt and equitable as required by Title IX, and that during the 2008-2009 through 2011-2012 academic years, as well as in two reports filed in 2013 and 2014, the University failed to respond in a prompt and equitable manner to many reports of sexual violence that were not filed as formal complaints. In addition, at least through the 2011-2012 academic year the University did not respond promptly and equitably to student complaints involving sexual harassment committed by University employees.”

In response to these findings, UVA and OCR formally entered into an agreement on Sept. 17, 2015, that would “forgive” the university of their transgressions should they strictly adhere to its guidelines. “The Agreement commits the University to continue implementing the steps it has already taken to address sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus and to take additional measures to ensure the University’s compliance with Title IX. Under the Agreement, the University will address sexual harassment, including sexual violence, in a comprehensive manner that requires clear notice of its commitment and the applicable processes for responding in a prompt and equitable manner, and also requires the University to assess the effectiveness of the steps it takes and, with OCR review and approval, take additional steps that may be necessary to ensure that students are not subjected to a sexually hostile environment.” (OCR)

Now, while the investigation of UVA may have been just one isolated incident, it truly represents a much larger picture on the topic of campus security and the protection of the rights of students. Regardless of the personally held beliefs and opinions of the faculty and administration of a college or university, when a student comes forth for help, the institution has an obligation to do whatever it can to ensure a student’s safety and well-being.

So Seniors, as you continue to look into where you want to spend the next four or more years of your life studying, keep it in your best interest to make sure that the university you care about cares just as much about you.

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