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Virginia has a new plan to combat campus sexual assault

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, shown here in 2014, chaired a state task force on campus sexual assault. (Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images)
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Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) announced a new state plan to combat campus sexual assault Thursday, an approach that includes proposals to improve prevention education, track the extent of sexual violence, minimize barriers to reporting incidents and coordinate response from colleges and law enforcement.

The plan, with 21 recommendations, is the result of a task force Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) created last year as sexual violence became an increasingly prominent issue for colleges across the country.

“It is still a significant problem, but we’ve made tremendous strides,” ” Herring said in a telephone interview. He said the state is “committed to making sure that colleges in Virginia are safe places to live, learn and work.”

[Read the Virginia task force report.]

The recommendations, to be sent to the governor, range from the straightforward to the technical.

The first is to direct colleges and universities to develop “a comprehensive prevention plan” that would be supported and carried out by faculty, staff, administrators and students. Herring acknowledged that many colleges would probably claim to be in compliance already, but he said the idea is to encourage them to intensify their efforts.

“It’s important to communicate these prevention messages, not just at the beginning of orientation or the beginning of the school year, but throughout a student’s entire time at the university,” Herring said. The messages need to be tailored to various constituencies, he said, such as athletic teams, minority groups, and fraternities. And the education needs to be assessed periodically.

Another proposal is to “improve and increase reporting options using emerging technologies, infographics, and online portal options for reporting sexual violence.” Herring said that colleges should be in tune with how students communicate.

“College students are used to doing everything online,” he said. “We really need to meet them where they are. That is really important.”

To ensure that colleges have a handle on the problem, another recommendation calls for public colleges and universities to assess how often sexual violence occurs through “climate surveys” administered to students at least every two years.

Some recommendations would require legislation. One calls for a law to require public and private colleges to establish “sexual assault response teams.” Another calls for a law to require colleges to enter into memoranda of understanding with either state police or local law enforcement, spelling out how they will work together to prevent sexual assault and respond to incidents.

The task force, which Herring chaired, includes students, law enforcement officials and higher education leaders. Among them were Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University; Allen Groves, dean of students at the University of Virginia; and Christopher Ndiritu, student body president at Old Dominion University.

Read more:

McAuliffe forms task force to combat sexual violence.

Campus discussions focus increasingly on sexual assault.

Colleges often reluctant to expel students for sexual assault.