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Virginia delegates propose revising college safety laws surrounding sexual assault

New bill would require administrators to report cases immediately to law enforcement


Three Virginia delegates proposed a bill to revise existing college safety laws regarding sexual assault, the latest in a sea of local and national responses to address the prevalence of sexual assault — most recently brought to the forefront of public attention after a Rolling Stone article detailed several cases of sexual assault at the University.

In their proposal, Dave Albo, Rob Bell and Todd Gilbert, delegates to the Virginia General Assembly and University alumni, advocate requiring college administrators to immediately report violent felonies by or against a student to local law enforcement upon receiving evidence of the incident.

Additionally, University police would be required to immediately inform the Commonwealth’s Attorney of the local jurisdiction upon receiving a complaint of a violent felony.

The proposal aims to ensure immediate investigation of rape cases — which the delegates said is essential for collecting evidence which would likely be necessary if the survivor later decides to press charges against her attacker.

“Many survivors are worried about having a he-said, she-said case,” said Bell, who represents Greene County and part of Albemarle. “The best way to prevent this is to preserve the physical and biological evidence in the period immediately after the assault.”

In their open later, the delegates said it is not the place of school administrators to address a violent felony such as rape.

“School officials are great for addressing school issues, but violent felonies should be addressed by the criminal justice system,” Bell said. “A rape is a rape, and no one should think he gets a pass just because he is a student or because it happens on Grounds.”

In response to concerns that this bill would affect the victim’s choice of whether or not to report her attack, Bell said that reporting the case to law enforcement does not force the victim to press charges or proceed to trial.

“In almost all cases, there is broad deference given to her wishes about whether and how to proceed,” Bell said. “However, victim-witness coordinators and prosecutors can certainly talk with her about prompt collection of evidence that will preserve her ability to go forward if she does want to press charges in the future.”

Additionally, though the bill would require college administrators to report all known cases of sexual assault to law enforcement, Bell said it would also include appropriate exceptions to comply with both medical confidentiality and attorney client-privilege. Therefore, medical and mental health professionals and student legal services would not have to report cases against their patient's or client’s wishes.

The proposed bill will be discussed in the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly.

“I believe the bill would help ensure that a student who was the victim of a sexual assault would have her charges reviewed by trained law enforcement, the evidence would be preserved and that, a victim that chooses to pursue criminal charges would be fully empowered to do so,” Bell said. “I believe we need to treat a rape the same, whether it happens on the Lawn, on Rugby Road or on West Main Street.”


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