General Assembly passes bills to combat campus sexual violence

Task force’s recommendations codified

The Virginia General Assembly passed four bills March 8 to codifiy recommendations from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence. The task force created 21 recommendations to reform the way Virginia prevents and responds to sexual violence on college campuses.

Each recommendation is categorized under one of five themes: engaging our campuses and communities in comprehensive prevention, minimizing barriers to reporting, cultivating a coordinated and trauma-informed response, sustaining and improving campus policies and ensuring compliance and institutionalizing the work of the task force and fostering ongoing collaborations.

In the final report to McAuliffe, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, chair of the task force, said the recommendations will “prevent campus sexual assault, to make certain that victims feel safe and are willing to report the crime, to ensure a survivor-centered response and to make certain that we properly seek justice against offenders.”

Out of the 21 recommendations submitted, four were incorporated into the bills passed by the General Assembly. All four recommendations amended Virginia law.

The first bill — HB1016 — requires public and private higher education institutions to establish Sexual Assault Response Teams. The task force found a previous Virginia law was insufficient because the law did not require SARTs to be in localities or higher education institutions.

SARTs will include members of student affairs, counseling and human resources offices and security personnel. Under the new law, SART records will be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

The second bill, HB1015, deals with memorandums of understanding, which set “forth the roles and responsibilities of the parties with respect to the prevention and investigation of crimes occurring on campus and involving students in the locality.”

The bill requires public and private institutions of higher learning to have a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement agencies or Virginia State Police. The MOUs with local law enforcement will be used to address the prevention of and response to sexual assault.

Virginia Del. Jimmie Massie (R-Henrico County) said the new law will bring about more collaboration in addressing sexual assault on campuses around the Commonwealth.

“Local law enforcement, campus police and school administrations all have a role to play in preventing and responding to reports of sexual violence,” Massie said in a press release. “These bills are very important for promoting cooperation between these groups and helping them all meet their responsibilities and the campus safety needs of our students.”

The third bill requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to provide a curriculum and training on trauma-informed sexual assault investigation. This law applies to all who are likely to be involved in a sexual assault investigation such as local law enforcement, campus security and campus police departments.

In the final report, the task force said “with a better understanding of the parameters of each process, Title IX and law enforcement/judicial professionals can work collaboratively to be more effective.”

The task force also said this recommendation will lead to the reduction of duplications in effort and in investigatory overlap.

The fourth bill passed — HB489 — requires the collection and storage of Physical Evidence Recovery Kits in blind reporting cases. The new law also requires PERKs to be stored indefinitely for felony sexual assault cases. Elements of HB489 were incorporated in HB1160, a bill relating to PERKs.

University officials and alumni were involved in the task force. University alumna Emily Renda is the subcommittee chair of prevention and Dean of Students Allen Groves is a member of the Response Committee. University Police Chief Michael Gibson and Charlottesville Police Department Chief Timothy Longo also contributed to the task force.

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