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Virginia launches effort to address sexual violence on college campuses

virginia-newGovernor Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring today announced a comprehensive effort to address sexual violence on college campuses. A series of immediate and long-term actions will examine the ways Virginia colleges and universities work to prevent and respond to sexual violence, identifying and implementing best practices to promote a survivor-centered approach that meets the needs of students and each school’s responsibilities under the law.

In a strong show of commitment, Governor McAuliffe, Attorney General Herring, the presidents of every public four-year college or university, and the Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System have signed a joint declaration pledging to aggressively combat campus sexual violence.

“In our quest to build a new Virginia economy, it is critical that our students live and learn in an environment that is free of the threat of sexual violence,” said Governor McAuliffe. “As the parents of five children, two of whom are still in college, this is an issue that is deeply important to both Dorothy and me. Campus sexual violence is a nationwide problem, and the statistics are both startling and saddening.

“We can – and must – do more to protect our nation’s young people. And I believe by partnering with our public universities, Virginia can become a national leader on this very important issue.”

Attorney General Herring continued, “We are in the midst of a long-overdue national conversation about preventing and responding to sexual violence on college campuses and Virginia will be a leader in that conversation. The national statistics are appalling and behind each number is the story of a young person whose life has been changed forever. We’re going to look at this from every angle—from how to minimize risk, to how to step in and stop violence, to ways to better address violence after the fact.

“We’re bringing together the best knowledge and talent that we have and whatever resources are necessary to prevent sexual violence from occurring, and we’re going to respect those who come forward to report it, and seek justice against those who perpetrate it. Every student in Virginia must know that if you report sexual violence or sexual misconduct, you will not be pressured, you will not be judged, and you will be treated at all times with the respect and compassion you deserve.”

To coordinate Virginia’s efforts to combat campus sexual violence, Governor McAuliffe has signed Executive Order 25 creating the Governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence. The task force will be chaired by Attorney General Herring and include campus administrators, advocates, campus and local law enforcement, higher education attorneys, health professionals, cabinet secretaries and others who can recommend best practices on prevention of and response to sexual violence. The task force will provide a final report to the Governor by no later than June 1, 2015, and will make recommendations on an on-going basis.

In addition to the task force, the Office of Attorney General has begun a review with each college and university of current policies and procedures for prevention and response. The OAG will provide advice on possible revisions to be more effective and to meet all legal requirements, drawing from the combined experiences and knowledge of Virginia schools, the recommendations of the task force, and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Office of Attorney General will begin an extensive training program with college and university staff who are involved in the prevention of and response to reported instances of sexual violence to ensure they know how to best meet the needs of their students and their obligations under the law. On October 30 and 31, the OAG will hold a statewide summit in Richmond to bring together campus leaders for discussions about ways to prevent and respond to sexual violence and meeting the latest legal requirements.

According to statistics cited by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, one in five women in college will experience sexual assault or an attempted assault, and the assailant is usually someone they know.  Incidents of sexual assault in university settings and beyond are widely known to be underreported and often miscategorized, with the National Research Council suggesting that 80% of incidents go unreported.




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