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University of Virginia in Uproar in Response to Rolling Stone Rape Article
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Graffit outside the Phi Sigma Psi house

Summary: In the wake of a Rolling Stone article that slams the University of Virginia for its handling of sexual assault, the school has erupted in protests, demanding change and action from the University.

Students Protest How Sexual Assault Has Been Handled


It was a tumultuous weekend at the University of Virginia as students reacted to Rolling Stone’s article “A Rape on Campus,” Rolling Stone reports. The article focuses on the account of a girl named “Jackie,” who, while a freshman at UVA, was brutally raped by seven male students in some sort of twisted fraternity initiation. The article describes the warnings Jackie was given about “painting UVA in a bad light” and “betraying” the school should she go public with the horrifying story. Critics state that students and the administration at UVA simply brush rape allegations aside. Over the weekend, several protests were held throughout campus.

Here is an article about colleges and universities being investigated for Title IX violations, such as mishandling sexual assault and harassment.

Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, stated, “Sexual violence is a nationwide problem, and it is critical that our schools acknowledge that this is a pervasive issue and take bold action to end it. State Senator Mark R. Warner added that he was “deeply troubled” by the article and said, “It’s time that Congress, universities, and law enforcement authorities work together to combat this epidemic.”

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Teresa A. Sullivan serves as the president of UVA. After protests began, Sullivan suspended all fraternities until January 9, 2015. She explained in a letter to the university, “This is an important first step, but our challenges will extend beyond this weekend. Meaningful change is necessary, and we can lead the change for all universities.” As of Thursday, Sullivan’s whereabouts are unknown, and the school is keeping mum on the issue for her safety.

The protests included a “Slut Walk,” which is an effort to “fight against this victim-blaming, slut-shaming culture that sexualizes women, yet shames them for being sexual,” Maria Dehart, a freshman, explained to the UVA student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily. Hundreds of students and faculty turned out for a “Take Back the Party: End Rape Now!” rally on Saturday night.

A statement issued by the organizers of the rally said, “We are not here to shut down the party. We are here to support a SAFE social environment for women as well as men. This is a FACULTY action demanding an end to sexual assault at UVA,” the school newspaper reported. Those who gathered marched from the college’s Beta Bridge to the Phi Kappa Psi house, which is where the rape occurred in 2012. Protestors were also present at Scott Stadium as UVA played the Miami Hurricanes.

Here is an article from last year about USC and the failure to prosecute a rape.

Rita Dove, a UVA Commonwealth Professor of English and a Poet Laureate, was horrified at the allegations: “It’s shocking. It’s shocking that nothing has been done. It’s shocking that it took an article by the Rolling Stone in order to get this started. I think many faculty members are strongly shocked at the level to which the administration has kept this quiet.”

One hundred other individuals gathered on the athletic field adjacent to President Sullivan’s office. President Sullivan has promised that the authorities would investigate the sexual assault allegations, and Phi Kappa Psi has also said it will launch its own investigation into the incident.

Fortunately, none of the protests over the weekend were violent. Four protestors were arrested at the Phi Kappa Psi house after they were given notice they were trespassing. The house has become a target for vandalism since the article was published in Rolling Stone. Last Thursday, “UVA Center of Rape Studies” was smeared on the front steps of the frat house in red paint.

In addition, the Glee Club at UVA has stopped all performances of “Rugby Road,” which was the fight song mentioned in the Rolling Stone article that boasts of sexual conquests of UVA fraternity members. The Cavalier Daily noted that the Club has sung this tune for the last 12 years, but it will not be sung for the rest of this semester, and possibly the entire next semester. Sandy Gilliam, a UVA historian, said, “Rolling Stone seems to equate the song with bad behavior—that’s just not true. Every student group used to have songs.”

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A new activist group has also been created at UVA. The Alliance for Social Change seeks to start a campus-wide conversation on social equality at the school, but many claim that students “[avoid] difficult questions,” so change may be slow. Lauren Stark, the founder of the group, said, “I think that’s a problem because democracy requires conflict, democracy requires debate. And that’s how we get social change.”

An Anonymous Letter Details the Dismissal of an Alleged Rape

According to Business Insider, a letter floated around UVA in 2012, which also details allegations of a rape and how these allegations were handled by the school. The letter, the author of which is anonymous, states, “He offered me a beer during a club meeting on Grounds. The next thing I knew, I woke up on a bed in a sun-lit room, naked, in pain, next to him.” The author describes getting out of the room as soon as she could and showering for a full hour: “I got home, ripped my clothes off and took an hour long shower, scrubbing my body down to the bone, cleaning any remaining semen I had on me. However, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t feel clean.”

The student then describes going to the Dean of Students’ office, where she alleges she was encouraged not to officially report the rape. She was instead encouraged to go through mediation with the school. However, the student filed a formal complaint with the university and then went to the police, but, unfortunately, the police dismissed her claims: “They took me to the UVA Hospital for a forensic examination. My complaint was dropped within a week, before the prosecution even looked at my forensic examination report….Apparently in Charlottesville, a woman has to be unconscious and carried back to a man’s place for non-consensual sex to be proved…’It was just bad sex,’ the prosecutor said. I was devastated.”

The student was, however, granted a hearing after filing a complaint with the school. What the student did not know was that a pre-hearing was required, which forced her to sit in the same room as the accused as both parties presented evidence to a dean, who would then determine what evidence would be presented at the actual hearing. The author recalls, “Suddenly, I forgot how to breathe and how to speak and I could barely restrain myself from running out of the room. What had happened before happened once again: he was the dominant figure and I could barely defend myself. Before I knew it, most of my evidence, like he had been accused of drugging others, was deemed ‘prejudicial’ against him and was ruled out as evidence for the hearing.”

As for the actual hearing, the student said that she “was sworn in on [her] honor at the beginning of the hearing while the rapist wasn’t.” She adds that he smirked at her if she looked in his direction. She spent an incredible 10 hours answering humiliating and personal questions, such as “Had [she] ever had ‘visions’ before? Was [she] on medication? Was [she] interested in him? Did [she] say ‘no’ forcefully enough for him to understand? Did it hurt because it was [her] first sexual experience?”

Although the accused apparently contradicted himself and lied during the hearing, he was “barely questioned,” according to the letter.

After the hearing, the school finally provided a conclusion to the student, however, not one that she wanted: “’This was a very difficult case. Ms. X provides a very compelling and believable account of the events and has clearly been affected by this incident. Mr. Y, your behavior was crass and disrespectful but this panel could not come to a unanimous conclusion that the policy had been violated in this instance. That said, this panel urges you, Mr. Y, to evaluate your actions and your treatment of women in the future. We would strongly suggest that you consider counseling around the issue of consent and respecting the wishes of your sexual partners. The panel wishes Ms. X well as she continues to work through the trauma that this incident has clearly caused.’”

Dean of Students Admits Students that Commit Sexual Assaults Are Not Expelled

The above account is undeniably disturbing. According to Jezebel, the Dean of Students has outright admitted that students are not expelled even after admitting that they have committed a rape.

Students from WUVA online, a student-run media outlet, recently released an interview that was video-recorded with Nicole Eramo, an associate Dean of Students who also runs the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board. According to Eramo, “There’s no advantage to admitting guilt.” In addition, she explains, “I feel like if a person is willing to come forward in that setting (in informal proceedings) and admit that they violated the policy when there’s absolutely no advantage to do so, that that does deserve some consideration. That they’re willing to say, ‘I’ve done something wrong and I recognize that and I’m willing to take my licks and deal with it,’ that’s very important to me. I think that shows a level of understanding of what they did that I don’t see in a hearing necessarily.”

Also, according to Eramo, the victims of such sexual assaults are just fine with this procedure. “They’re looking to be able to look into the eyes of that other person and say, ‘You’ve wronged me in some way.’ And they’re generally feeling quite satisfied with the fact that the person has admitted that they’ve done something wrong.” Later, she adds, “You’d be very surprised how often I hear, ‘I do not want to get him in trouble.’”

Last year, the University of Colorado released some rape prevention tips.

As for what a formal hearing is, Eramo clarifies that there are investigators who obtain statements from the victim, the accused, and witnesses, if any. Then, a report is submitted to the Sexual Misconduct Board, which is comprised of half students and half faculty. A two-day training is required for this job, which begins with a presentation from Brett Sokolow, who is the president and CEO of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, which informs schools how they may quickly handle rape cases. Sokolow adds that some rape cases are simply “drunken sexual hook-ups,” that unfairly punish a student.

The student conducting the interview points out to Eramo that plagiarism and cheating may lead to a student getting expelled, but that rape accusations never have. Eramo recalls that the longest suspension she knows of for a rape is two years.

When asked if expelling rapists would serve as a deterrent, Eramo responds, “I don’t know that it would. Because I don’t believe that they think they’ll get caught.”

And, according to Jezebel, it’s unlikely that they’ll have to sweat much, even if they do get caught.

Disturbing Numbers

Another article by Business Insider reports that last year, 38 students reached out to Eramo after an alleged sexual assault. However, only nine resulted in official complaints. Of those, only four led to Sexual Misconduct Hearings. As for the rest, they simply “evaporated.” One complaint was by “Jackie,” the student whose account was described in Rolling Stone. According to Jackie, she asked Eramo why the school does not publish all of its sexual assault data. Eramo’s response? “Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”

However, many colleges and universities have been chastised for their silence on sexual assault. Colleges are required by law to report campus crime statistics under the Clery Act. However, there is no requirement for keeping up with sexual assault reports that stay within the procedures of the school. For example, a lawsuit against Columbia University stated,”…the University treats survivors and alleged perpetrators unequally, perpetrators are allowed to remain on campus, [and] students are discouraged from reporting sexual assault.” Columbia now actually releases student sexual assault complaint data, a rarity among colleges in the United States.

Photo credit: Business Insider



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