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Friday, March 7, 2014

New Rules Press Colleges To Improve Sexual Assault Procedures

President Teresa A. Sullivan addresses attendees of the national conference on student sexual misconduct, Feb. 10, 2013. (Dan Addison/UVA)

President Teresa A. Sullivan addresses attendees of the national conference on student sexual misconduct, Feb. 10, 2013. (Dan Addison/UVA)

The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act takes effect today. It holds institutions of higher education responsible for the prevention of sexual violence, not just responding to it after assaults occur.

It also establishes standard procedures for disciplining those found guilty, and requires greater transparency on sexual violence policy and procedures, not just about rape but also domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

The Obama administration’s new Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault comes out with its best practices next month. The response comes as a growing number of female victims are accusing their institutions of mishandling sexual assault cases. Last month, the White House reported that one in five women students on college campuses will experience sexual assault.

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, whose institution recently held a national conference on sexual misconduct, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the issue. Students at her university are also calling for sexual assault to be made a University honor offense.

Interview Highlights: Theresa Sullivan

On what needs to be done on this issue

“It is clear that we have a need for greater education. One of the things we learned is that a woman is most likely to be subject to a sexual assault during her first three weeks on the university campus, and that suggests that there’s much more that we could do in terms of orientation and preparation of young women even before they arrive here. It made me wonder if maybe there’s not more that could be done at the high school level as well.”

On the student petition asking to make sexual assault an ‘honor offense’

“The university has an honor code that dates back to the 1840s, and students who matriculate here promise that they will not lie, cheat or steal. If they’re accused of that, they are judged by a jury of their peers, and the only sanction is expulsion. The honors system has been entirely delegated to the students. And so the petition is not to the university. The petition is to the honor council because only the students can make this decision.”

On the view that sexual assault should go through the criminal justice system

“Well, I would say that, you know, certainly here at the university we encourage a survivor to make use of the police and the criminal justice system if that’s what the survivor wants to do. We make all those options as transparent as we can, and some survivors do choose to go to the police, some choose not to. Some prefer simply to undergo a course of counseling. Some of them prefer not to do anything.”

What steps are taken at UVA when someone is sexually assaulted?

“One of the things we try immediately to do is to offer a range of services, certainly including medical, psychological, the option to take forensic evidence if that’s necessary. The first person you talk to is very critical to the path you eventually take. If you are discouraged or embarrassed or shamed by that first encounter, you’re likely not to do anything at all. So, we try to make certain that the first person that the student encounters is somebody who is well trained.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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