We’ve all heard the statistic – 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault during their college careers.[1] On November 19, 2014, Rolling Stone published an article titled “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Search for Justice at UVA.”[2] The article detailed the account of Jackie[3], a first-year student, who was allegedly gang-raped at a UVA fraternity house.[4] The article also described the administration’s efforts to diminish her story in the name of protecting the University’s legacy.[5]In light of conflicting evidence, Rolling Stone has since retracted the article and apologized, stating that it was mistaken in failing to fact check Jackie’s story.[6] Nonetheless, UVA was hurled into the media’s spotlight and was forced to take a hard look at its sexual assault policy.

In the wake of the article’s release, UVA’s Board of Visitors held a meeting to discuss its current sexual assault policy and the role that alcohol plays in campus sexual assaults.[7] One board member cited alcohol abuse as the “fuel” for sexual assault and proposed that UVA take measures to stop underage drinking.[8] However, Tommy Reid, the president of UVA’s Inter-Fraternity Council, replied that banning alcohol would only push drinking underground.[9] Ultimately, the Board approved a motion to commence a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, but it did not define “zero tolerance.”[10] Meanwhile, University President Teresa A. Sullivan has suspended all activities of campus fraternal organizations.[11]

Back in 2011, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights placed UVA under review regarding its sexual assault policy and its treatment of reported sexual assault cases.[12] While UVA largely remained silent during that time, on November 19, 2014, (the same day the Rolling Stone article was published), UVA posted its proposed new Sexual Misconduct Policy for public review and comment.[13] Under this new policy, a university investigator will conduct an investigation of complaints reported to the University.[14] This investigation includes an opportunity for all parties to identify and respond to witnesses and evidence.[15]After the completion of the investigation, the university investigator will recommend a finding of “responsibility” or “no responsibility.”[16] From there, a Sexual Misconduct Board (SMB) will conduct a hearing on sanctions where the SMB is required to consider a sanction of suspension or expulsion in every case.[17]

Most importantly, in response to the Board of Visitors’ conversation, alcohol may, in some instances contribute to sexual assault, but it is certainly not the “fuel” for it. Sadly, the “fuel” happens to be misappropriated attitudes and twisted perceptions of gender roles. Addressing sexual assault on campus by attempting to crackdown on alcohol consumption is a battle the UVA administration is sure to lose. Additionally, UVA’s proposed new Sexual Assault Misconduct policy does not mesh with the traditional “zero tolerance” paradigm. Under the new policy, the SMB is required to consider, but does not have to administer expulsion or suspension in every case. Zero tolerance means that in every case where a university investigator finds “responsibility,” only a sanction of suspension or expulsion could be considered. While the Board did not define “zero tolerance,” it plans to meet in December to further discuss the policy.[18] The hope is that it will adopt an appropriate definition of “zero tolerance” where a finding of responsibility results in either suspension or expulsion.

Unfortunately, sexual assault on college campuses is not a recent phenomenon, and while UVA may have been the scapegoat, the Rolling Stone article convinced many universities to reevaluate their approaches toward sexual assault. Meanwhile, the bigger picture that remains is the possible detrimental effect Rolling Stones’ retraction could have in terms of victims’ rights. Victim blaming remains a serious issue, and Rolling Stones’ failure to fact check Jackie’s story does not change the fact that the rate of false reporting for sexual assaults is only two percent.[19]Although the facts of Jackie’s story may not have checked out, the sad reality is that what happened in her story is likely another victim’s truth.

[1] See The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, Clery Ctr. for Sec. on Campus, https://clerycenter.org/campus-sexual-violence-elimination-save-act (last visited Dec. 9, 2014).

[2] See Sabrina Rubin Erdely, A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Search for Justice at UVA, Rolling Stone (Nov. 19, 2014),https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See A Note to Our Readers, Rolling Stone (Dec. 5, 2014),https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/a-note-to-our-readers-20141205.

[7] See Frederic J. Frommer, UVA Board Looks at Alcohol as Factor in Sex Assaults on Campus, The Washington Times, Nov. 26, 2104, at A12.

[8] See id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Burden of Proof: UVA’s Sexual Assault Policy Under Fire, C-Ville (Nov. 20, 2012), https://www.c-ville.com/burden-of-proof-uvas-sexual-assault-policy-under-fire/#.VId18aTF-3U.

[13] Student Sexual Misconduct Policy Executive Summary of Proposed Revisions for Public Comment, Virginia.edu,https://www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence/policy/ (last visited Dec. 9, 2014).

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] See Frommer, supra note 5.

[19] See generally The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act,supra note 1.

Posted in

Share this post