Students alleging they were raped or sexually assaulted at the University of Virginia would no longer have to meet the high standard of “clear and convincing evidence” under new rules proposed by school officials Thursday.
The new standard in such cases would be a “preponderance of the evidence,” which essentially means it is more likely than not that the assault occurred.
U-Va. was already working on new sexual misconduct rules and regulations when the federal government last month issued a Dear Colleague letter that specifically asked colleges to adopt the “preponderance” standard, which makes it easier for victims to prevail.
The university is one of many around the nation that have been accused of ignoring sexual assaults, minimizing them, ruling against victims or trying to make them go away.
And now U-Va. is among the first to revise its rules to meet the federal directive. School officials say they hope their regulations can become a national model.
An investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity in 2009 focused on a case at U-Va. Former student Kathryn Russell spoke of the university’s attempts to shroud her case in confidentiality, telling her she faced disciplinary action if she went public. That stance, the article said, is one reason why only 33 people had reported rape at UVA in the previous 10 years.
New U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan, the university’s first female president, said from the beginning she intended to revisit the school’s sexual misconduct rules.
Among the draft revisions:
1. The proposed rules emphasize where victims can go to get help and support.
2. The definition of sexual misconduct is significantly broadened to include sexual harassment, including stalking and relationship violence, as well as sexual exploitation, including transmitting sexual images and voyeurism.
(U-Va. last year drew national attention for a case of alleged relationship violence that ended in the death of senior Yeardley Love.)
3. Better definitions of “effective consent” and “incapacitation,” terms that are key to many sexual assault cases.
4. Geographical limitations on misconduct cases are removed.
5. Time limits on reporting cases are removed.
(In 2007, a former U-Va. student admitted to an assault 20 years earlier; that, too, became a national story.)
6. Mediation is removed as an option in sexual misconduct cases; the federal letter said it was inappropriate.