RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers are calling for mandatory reporting of campus sexual assaults to law enforcement agencies after allegations of a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house.
Rolling Stone magazine last month published a detailed account of brutal sexual violence on the campus and highlighted colleges and universities’ often inadequate handling of cases that could be considered criminal assaults. Since then the university has been under increasing scrutiny.
Several Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly will seek bipartisan consensus on passing a law in next year’s session requiring reporting within a day or two of a reported assault.
Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) criticized the handling of campus sex assault cases, saying the system has been set up to protect institutions rather than people.
“The reason they don’t come forward is because they know that the administration had but one goal and that’s to sweep that sucker under the rug, ” said Saslaw, whose daughter attended U-Va.
He will propose requiring university employees, professors and administrators to report a rape within 24 hours or face a misdemeanor charge themselves.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield) has introduced legislation that would require campus and local police to notify the local commonwealth’s attorney within 48 hours of the start of an investigation into a felony criminal sexual assault on a college campus.
“This problem needs to be addressed across campus. Whether in a fraternity house, dorm room, parking garage or research facility, everyone on campus should feel safe and be protected,” Filler-Corn said.
Victims’ rights advocates say they are heartened by recent attention to the issue, but caution against a reactionary approach that could have unintended consequences.
Kristi VanAudenhove, executive director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, said “incremental steps forward are always welcome.”
“But I also look forward to that longer discussion and more comprehensive set of recommendations,” she added. “I think when we zero in on one particular piece of the puzzle as the solution . . . we leave a lot of victims behind.”
In August, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) issued an executive order creating a task force to address sexual violence at the state’s colleges. By June 1, the task force must present recommendations for how sexual violence complaints should be investigated and resolved, among other guidelines.
Dels. Robert B. Bell (R-Albemarle), C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said they will propose a bill that would require immediate reporting of a violent felony, such as rape, and require university police to inform the local commonwealth’s attorney. All three are U-Va. graduates, former state prosecutors and members of the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the Courts of Justice Committee.
“There are no doubt things that college administrators are particularly equipped to handle . . . but a violent felony is not one of them,” Bell said.
Bell noted that an immediate investigation is needed to preserve physical and biological evidence and said a victims’ witness coordinator or investigator — not a college administrator — is best suited to counsel someone about his or her options.
“A rape that takes place on campus should be handled exactly as if it happened down the road. No one should get a free pass,” Bell said, adding that the Virginia State Crime Commission plans to discuss the issue on Tuesday.
Separate from the campus sexual assault debate, Del. Richard Morris (R-Isle of Wight), recently introduced a package of bills that would give students accused of breaking college or university rules the right to an attorney to balance the school’s legal team and the right to appeal the decision of an internal disciplinary review in circuit court.
Morris said that in light of the sexual assault debate he plans to amend the bill to require mandatory reporting to law enforcement if a crime is alleged to have been committed.