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Features | Spring 2015

Sexual Assault and UVA
An overview of how the University is responding to this issue

The Rolling Stone article put our University in the spotlight, and we are using this moment of national attention to provide strong leadership in the long-running effort to improve student safety on America’s college campuses,” Teresa Sullivan said in a January 30, 2015, address to the University. “All colleges, the military and many workplaces face issues of sexual violence. But we have been put in a leadership position, and we will lead.”

The following timeline tracks national and legal developments related to sexual assaults on college campuses, recaps UVA’s responses to the Rolling Stone article and highlights what’s specifically being done at the University to help ensure student safety—both in recent years and going forward.


Title IX

June 23, 1972

Richard Nixon

Signed into law by President Richard Nixon, Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Women’s Center Opens at UVA

August 31, 1989

Student activism and the “University of Virginia Task Force on the Status of Women” lead to the creation of the UVA Women’s Center. Two years later, the Women’s Center hires Claire Kaplan (Educ ’04) to serve as its sexual assault education coordinator—the first full-time position of its kind at a Virginia college or university.

Sharon Davie

“The number of students, faculty, and staff contacting the Women’s Center for cutting-edge sexual assault education and prevention training has risen dramatically, and continues to increase each day.”

—Sharon Davie (Grad ’69, ’72), founder and director, Women’s Center, in a December 28, 2014, letter to center supporters

The Clery Act

November 8, 1990

George H.W. Bush

Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, the Clery Act requires publication of an annual security report, crime logs and statistics, and timely notifications of crimes on or near college campuses.

Dear Colleague Letter

April 4, 2011

Issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), this letter clarifies that sexual violence is a form of harassment prohibited by Title IX and provides guidance on how schools should work to prevent and respond to these incidents.

Office for Civil Rights Launches Investigation of UVA

June 30, 2011

OCR begins compliance review of the University’s sexual harassment and sexual assault policies and procedures. In July 2012, the OCR informed UVA of a complaint from a student, which was consolidated with the existing compliance review. The investigation remains open, and UVA is now one of more than 80 schools the OCR is investigating.

Student Sexual Assault Policy Revised

July 8, 2011

After an extensive review of complaints and investigations dating back to 2005, UVA adopts its new “Policy and Procedures for Cases of Student Sexual Misconduct.” UVA is one of the first universities to revise policy based on the guidance of the Dear Colleague Letter.

Violence Against Women Act

March 7, 2013

Under federal law, colleges and universities are required to report domestic violence, dating violence and stalking—expanding the crime categories already mandated by the Clery Act. Schools must also adopt certain student discipline procedures and certain institutional policies to address and prevent campus sexual violence, including training for university personnel.

White House Task Force Formed

January 22, 2014

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama establishes the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. In April, the task force completes a report called “Not Alone,” divided into three areas in which colleges are advised to direct their efforts:

  • Identifying the Problem: Campus Climate Surveys
  • Preventing Sexual Assault—and Engaging Men
  • Effectively Responding When a Student Is Sexually Assaulted

“Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity. And it’s about all of us—the safety of those we love most: our moms, our wives, our daughters and our sons.”

—President Barack Obama

“Dialogue at UVA: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students”

February 10–11, 2014

UVA convenes national conference—including more than 250 representatives from colleges and universities—that examines issues related to prevention, adjudication and education.

Teresa Sullivan

“One of the most vexing problems I’ve seen since becoming a president is the growing rate of sexual misconduct on college campuses nationwide. Our intention with this conference is to launch a national discussion among higher education communities in which we examine the complexities surrounding sexual misconduct and explore ways to reduce such behavior.”

—President Teresa Sullivan

Virginia Gov. Establishes Task Force

August 22, 2014

Governor Terry McAuliffe

Governor Terry McAuliffe forms the Governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence. The task force includes subcommittees on prevention, response and law enforcement. Two representatives from UVA are included among the 30-member group.

BOV Briefed on New Measures to Combat Sexual Assault

September 12, 2014

Among discussion of several initiatives is the “Not on Our Grounds” program— dedicated to ending sexual violence through awareness campaigns and prevention efforts—launched at the start of the academic year. A part of this initiative, “Hoos Got Your Back,” is a bystander awareness effort that encourages students to intervene in potentially dangerous situations.

Hoos Got Your Back

Additional Counselors Hired

October 2014

UVA hires additional counseling and trauma response personnel in the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center and in UVA’s Counseling and Psychological Services.

Proposed new Student Sexual Misconduct Policy posted for public comment

November 19, 2014

Last revised by UVA in 2011, this new policy responds to legal changes since that time, including the OCR’s additional guidance on Title IX and sexual violence to all colleges and universities on April 29, 2014, and the Department of Education’s October 20, 2014, regulations implementing changes to the federal Clery Act, required by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).

Rolling Stone magazine publishes article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA”

Rolling Stone Article

The article, now largely discredited, centers on an alleged gang rape of a UVA student, identified as Jackie, in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house (more commonly known as Phi Psi).

“I was looking for a school that was elite, a school people look up to, but also where the culture felt representative of what’s going on around the country. I wanted a school being investigated for Title IX, and on top of all that I needed people to be willing to talk with me about their experiences with sexual assault. UVA filled the bill on all fronts.”

Sabrina Rubin Erdely

—Sabrina Rubin Erdely Rolling Stone story’s author, in an interview with NBC 29

Phi Psi Vandalized

November 20, 2014

At 2:45 a.m., police respond to reports of broken windows and graffiti on the Phi Psi house. Later that day, a letter signed by “The students who vandalized the Phi Psi house” is sent to several news organizations with a list of demands for change.

Vandalism at Phi Psi

Phi Psi Voluntarily Suspends Activities

“Make no mistake, the acts depicted in the article are beyond unacceptable—they are vile and intolerable in our brotherhood, our university community and our society. We remain ready and willing to assist with the fair and swift pursuit of justice, wherever that may lead, and steadfast in our resolve to ensure that nothing like this can happen, ever, on our Grounds.”

—Statement from Phi Kappa Psi

Fraternity Social Activities Temporarily Suspended

November 22, 2014

Inter-Fraternity Council voluntarily suspends weekend social activities. Later that day, President Sullivan extends suspension through Jan. 9.

Tommy Reid

“This is a temporary, short-term action that will ultimately benefit our University and our community in the long-term, not an impulsive move to blame rape on fraternities. The temporary suspension grants our fraternity system time to develop substantive and actionable solutions for the future.”

—Tommy Reid (Col ’15), Inter-Fraternity Council president, in an email response to suspension

Students Send Letter Supporting Dean Eramo

Spearheaded by a student leader of the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, students compile a November 24 letter to President Sullivan with over 250 signatures expressing support for Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo (Col ’97, Educ ’03, ’10).

Special Meeting of Board of Visitors

November 25, 2014

UVA’s governing body meets about the Rolling Stone article and adopts a zero-tolerance approach toward sexual assault. President Sullivan announces that she has asked the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the case involving Jackie.

Board of Visitors Meeting

Virginia’s Attorney General initiates investigation

Attorney General Mark Herring

At the request of the BOV, Attorney General Mark Herring (Col ’83, Grad ’87) hires the firm of O’Melveny & Myers to conduct a full and independent review of the University’s response to the report of sexual assault and violence involving Jackie in the Rolling Stone article. That review will include an evaluation of whether the University’s response was and is in compliance with the University’s stated policies and procedures, as well as with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations.

President Sullivan Addresses Students

December 1, 2014

President Sullivan

During a meeting with students, Sullivan frames her remarks around several questions related to her areas of focus:

  • Do we do everything possible to protect every student at UVA?
  • Have we provided the proper emphasis on both supporting survivors and encouraging reporting?
  • What is the role of alcohol?
  • What is the role of Greek life?
  • What do we do about this?

Rolling Stone Acknowledges Inaccuracies and Apologizes for Article

December 5, 2014

After a series of investigative articles by the Washington Post reveal significant problems with the reporting and accuracy of the Rolling Stone story, the magazine’s managing editor acknowledges major discrepancies in article.

Will Dana

“We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”

—Will Dana, managing editor, Rolling Stone, in a statement to readers

“Over the past two weeks, our community has been more focused than ever on one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today: sexual violence on college campuses,” President Sullivan says in response to Rolling Stone’s retraction. “Today’s news must not alter this focus.”

Alex Pinkleton

“While the details of this one case may have been misreported, this does not erase the somber truth this article brought to light: Rape is far more prevalent than we realize, and it is often misunderstood and mishandled by peers, institutions and society at large.”

—Alex Pinkleton (Col ’16), to the Washington Post on Dec. 5

Ad Hoc Group Formed

December 8, 2014

The Ad Hoc Group on University Climate and Culture meets for the first time. The group, which includes BOV members, faculty, staff, students and alumni, will deliver interim reports by March 16 and final reports by April 30 on the following three areas:

  • Culture, including student behavior, Greek life, alcohol and other drug use, and student self-governance
  • Prevention, including bystander training, peer education and physical safety such as lighting, camera systems and policing
  • Response, including institutional survivor support, training for students and faculty, and UVA policies and issues regarding adjudication

Special Board Meeting to Address Sexual Assault

December 19, 2014

George Keith Martin

Excerpt from meeting’s opening statement by George Keith Martin (Col ’75), rector of the Board of Visitors:

“Like a neighborhood thrown into chaos by drive-by violence, our tightly knit community has experienced the full fury of drive-by journalism in the 21st century—of callous indifference to the truth and callous indifference to the consequences.

The whole story is still not clear, but it is not too soon to assess some of the damage.

  • Innocent people have been hurt; some of them devastated.
  • Our great University’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished.
  • Our community—one characterized distinctively by honor and leadership and selfless service to others—has been cast into self-doubt.
  • And great and important causes have suffered mightily as a result: the cause of sexual assault prevention and prosecution, which requires the engagement and goodwill of our whole community; and the cause of due process, which is our only sure refuge against the storms of passion and our only protection against the rush to judgment.

We are tempted to respond to these injustices with anger. But a great University does not respond in anger. Its very mission is to teach the power of truth and reason over prejudice and passion. And we need to practice what we preach.”

Fraternity Activities Reinstated

January 6, 2015

President Sullivan reinstates social activities at fraternities, provided the Fraternal Organization Agreement addenda are signed by each fraternity and sorority by Jan. 16.

Green Dot Training

January 6-9, 2015

150 UVA students, faculty and staff complete a four-day Green Dot training program designed to improve bystander intervention, focusing on prevention of sexual assault, stalking and intimate partner violence.

Not on Our Grounds

Phi Psi Cleared by Police and Reinstated by UVA

January 12, 2015

After an investigation, the Charlottesville Police Department reports no substantive basis to the allegations raised in the Rolling Stone article having occurred at Phi Psi.

New Fraternal Organization Agreements Signed

January 16, 2015

Fraternities and sororities adopt new addenda to their operating agreements with the University. Created by the four student-led Greek leadership councils and others, the changes outline specific ways that safety at fraternity parties will be improved.

Presidential Address to the University

January 30, 2015

“The Columbia Journalism Review placed the Rolling Stone story at the top of its list for ‘the worst journalism of 2014.’ The story unfairly maligned UVA and many members of our community,” President Sullivan says.“Perhaps the most emphatic refutation of the story’s thesis was the collective revulsion to its allegations expressed by students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni.”

Presidential Address to the University
Washington Post logo

“After the account of a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia was discredited, the campus could have tried to revert to the status quo. That it chose not to go back to business as usual is a credit to university officials and to students, who realized more needed to be done to improve safety. … It is noteworthy that the new rules were developed with student fraternity leaders playing an important, if not leading, role.”

Washington Post editorial board Jan. 23, 2015

Town Hall Meetings

March 2–4, 2015

Over a three-day period, working groups—focused on prevention, response and culture—within the University Climate and Culture ad hoc committee hold town hall meetings to engage the broader University community on issues related to sexual assault. Each working group will present its final suggestions to President Sullivan in late March.

Charlottesville Police Department Suspends Investigation

March 23, 2015

“Based on the information known to investigators at this time, we find no substantive basis of fact to conclude that an incident occurred that is consistent with the facts as described in the November 19, 2014, Rolling Stone Magazine article.

The department’s investigation cannot rule out that something may have happened to ‘Jackie’ somewhere and at some time on the evening of September 28, 2012. Yet, without additional evidence we are simply unable to reach a definitive conclusion.

This investigation remains open, yet suspended in the event additional evidence should come to light.”

Read the full release

President Sullivan’s Response

“On behalf of the University of Virginia, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Chief Timothy Longo and the Charlottesville Police Department for their thorough investigation into the allegations described in the November 2014 article in Rolling Stone magazine. I would also like to thank the individuals who cooperated with the police investigation. The investigation confirms what federal privacy law prohibited the University from sharing last fall: that the University provided support and care to a student in need, including assistance in reporting potential criminal conduct to law enforcement. Chief Longo’s report underscores what I have known since well before the publication of the Rolling Stone article: that we at the University are committed to ensuring the health and safety of all of our students.

We cannot fulfill our mission as an institution of higher learning without providing for the welfare of our students and our community. There is important work ahead as the University continues to implement substantive reforms to improve its culture, prevent violence and respond to incidents of violence when they occur. We will continue our collaborative partnership with the Charlottesville Police Department, united by our shared commitment to fostering a culture of respect while ensuring the safety and well-being of all members of our community.”

Interim Policy on Sexual Assault and Harassment

March 30, 2015

The University’s new interim policy is much broader in scope than the previous one and addresses all aspects of reporting, assessing, investigating and resolving cases of prohibited conduct. In addition, the policy explicitly defines and prohibits sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence and stalking, consent and incapacitation, sexual and gender-based harassment, complicity and retaliation. The policy provides a student resource guide, expanded reporting options, resolution options, sanctions and other information.

Columbia Journalism School indicts Rolling Stone article

April 5, 2015

The report, called “a work of journalism about a failure of journalism” details multiple points in the reporting, editing and fact-checking process during which important questions and basic tenets of journalism were ignored. At any of these points, further reporting would have changed the article dramatically, the report concludes. For its part, Rolling Stone used the report to “officially retract ‘A Rape on Campus.’”

President Sullivan’s Response

Rolling Stone’s story, ‘A Rape on Campus,’ did nothing to combat sexual violence, and it damaged serious efforts to address the issue. Irresponsible journalism unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia. Rolling Stone falsely accused some University of Virginia students of heinous, criminal acts, and falsely depicted others as indifferent to the suffering of their classmate. The story portrayed University staff members as manipulative and callous toward victims of sexual assault. Such false depictions reinforce the reluctance sexual assault victims already feel about reporting their experience, lest they be doubted or ignored.”

Read Sullivan’s full statement

Cultural Landscape Survey

Spring 2015

In April, UVA students will participate in a sexual assault campus climate survey that will include 27 other institutions of higher learning. “Our primary purpose in conducting this survey is to help our institutions gain a better understanding of this complex problem on their own campuses as well as nationally,” says AAU President Hunter Rawlings. “Our first priority, and theirs, is to ensure that students not only are safe but feel safe. Universities will be using their data to inform their own policies and practices regarding sexual assault.”


Prevalence of Sexual Assault

The National Institute of Justice reports: “The often-quoted statistic that one in four American college women will be raped during her college years is not supported by the scientific evidence. Nonetheless, several studies indicate that a substantial proportion of female students—between 18 and 20 percent—experience rape or some other form of sexual assault during their college years.”

Alcohol’s Role

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports: “Conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.”

False Reports Are Rare

A 2009 study by National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women states that when “methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports [of sexual assault] begin to converge around 2 percent to 8 percent.”

Low Reporting Rates

According to the 2014 Department of Justice report “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013,” 80% of student rape and assault victimizations were not reported to police, and 1 in 5 stated a fear of reprisal.


Why isn’t sexual assault an Honor Offense?

Allen Groves

According to Allen Groves (Law ’90), UVA’s Dean of Students, Honor procedures and Sexual Misconduct Board procedures use different standards of proof. The Honor System uses beyond a reasonable doubt—the highest standard of proof. The sexual misconduct policy dictated by law requires proof by a preponderance of the evidence (as little as 51 percent probability).

In addition, the Honor System is purely student run while the misconduct board consists of students, faculty and staff who are trained in sexual misconduct claims. These groups are applying two very different standards and being heard by two very differently trained groups of people.

Why doesn’t the University immediately turn over matters involving sexual assault to the police?

Gina Smith

“The decision of where and when to report a sexual assault belongs to the victim—not the University. The federal laws and guidance give great deference to the right of an adult victim to choose how to proceed after a sexual assault—indeed, federal law (2013 Violence Against Women Act) requires educational institutions to inform victims of their option to notify or decline to notify law enforcement. Responding to sexual and gender-based harassment and violence requires a careful balancing of a victim’s agency and autonomy with the responsibility to provide a safe environment free from harassment and discrimination.”

—Gina Smith, a nationally recognized expert on issues related to sexual assault at colleges who is assisting UVA with compliance, procedures and practices

The following points simplify a complex set of federal laws, but provide a basic overview of the framework institutions operate within when supporting survivors of sexual violence:

  • In addition to the above VAWA requirement, Title IX does not require a school to report alleged incidents of sexual violence to law enforcement.
  • The requirement that schools respond to all reports of sexual harassment or violence is not discretionary.
  • Even in cases where there is an active law enforcement action, a school must still take steps to investigate or otherwise determine what happened to eliminate, prevent and address discrimination and harassment.
  • Law enforcement officials can decline to investigate or charge in any matter—leaving some complainants with campus processes as the only option to redress alleged harm.

Students: How we’re making UVA better

Jalen Ross (Engr ’15)
President, Student Council

Jalen Ross

Student Council has held discussions on where and when students feel least safe and how best to fix that. We’ve communicated with University leadership where money and resources are most effectively spent, and advocated for student-centric solutions. We’ve lobbied against legislation in Richmond that would compromise the privacy of student survivors of sexual assault. We’ve answered when the national press came calling. If we can be an effective crossroads for all the parties interested in keeping students safe, we’ll be making a positive mark on this place—and I know that we can, have and will.

Sara Surface (Col ’16)
External Chair, Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition & Board Member, SARA, Charlottesville

Sara Surface

Along with many others, I am working to create a campus culture that erases the silence and stigma around violence. After the tragedies of last semester, I want survivors of sexual assault to know that there are allies ready to support them in every level of leadership at the University. Change will only come once we acknowledge the gaps in our prevention and response efforts and work to patch these gaps with intervention efforts from across the community. I challenge any notion that this work is easy or quick— it has and will be a long road, but desperately needs our time and energy.

Brian Head (Com ’15)
President, One in Four & Chairman for Diversity and Outreach, IFC

Brian Head

I remain steadfast in my support for survivors and see a need for systematic and cultural change with how UVA deals with sexual assault. Through One in Four, I lead a fantastic group of guys who aim to educate others about how to prevent sexual assault through our own individual behaviors. Through the Inter-Fraternity Council, I help to establish the best practices to keep the guests in our houses safe and to address any cultural problems that hinder our community. I am proud of those organizations and of all of the students and administrators working to make UVA a better place.

Hawa Ahmed (Col ’15)
Chair, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team

Hawa Ahmed

I hope upperclassmen will ask themselves what message they are presenting to first-year students at parties. Whether we’d like to believe it or not, pairs of 18-year-old eyes are always looking up to us.

I hope we can better support our more than one-third of students who would rather not drink on a Saturday night, and look to other schools—Clemson, Penn State, West Virginia University—that present robust late-night programming options for their students.

When I walk the Lawn in May, I hope I can look back on a University that has emerged a national leader in addressing high-risk drinking issues. I hope I’ve made a difference.

What comes next?

Several investigations are still ongoing. These investigations include the following:

  • The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education’s compliance review and investigation of an additional student complaint
  • O’Melveny & Myers review of the University’s response to allegations reported in the Rolling Stone article
  • Letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) requesting a report that documents compliance with the following standard: “The institution takes reasonable steps to provide a healthy, safe, and secure environment for all members of the campus community.” The University has provided the information requested and is awaiting a response from SACSCOC.

Additionally, the University’s recently formed ad hoc group will deliver its report on April 30.