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Semester in Review: Sexual Assault prevention policy, advocacy efforts

At the beginning of semester, the University launched its chapter of the national sexual assault initiative Not On Our Grounds to raise awareness of the issue and spark prevention efforts.

Also started this semester was Hoos Got Your Back, a sub-campaign under Not On Our Grounds geared at promoting bystander awareness, especially among first-years, who are statistically at the greatest risk of sexual violence in college. The initiative also engages the Charlottesville community by reaching out to local merchants such as Mincer’s, The Virginian, Littlejohn’s and Take It Away.

“We intended for Hoos Got Your Back to be an introduction to bystander [intervention], and to raise awareness for how important bystanders can be in fighting sexual misconduct,” Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo said in September. “We kind of considered it our first step, and our next step is working on developing and implementing some training programs for students, so I think you’ll see more of that coming towards the end of this semester and into the spring semester.”

Additionally, in August, University President Teresa Sullivan announced a new University policy requiring faculty and staff to report sexual misconduct allegations they hear from students. Employees who are in health care or in counseling are considered Confidential Employees, and are not required to report — though the exact extent of the policy has yet to be ironed out.

That policy was adopted to help the University improve its compliance with Title IX requirements which prohibit discrimination based on sex among institutions receiving federal financial aid. The University is currently under a Title IX compliance investigation.

“We believe it accurately reflects the current Title IX regulatory expectations for all institutions of higher education across the country,” Dean of Students Allen Groves said of the University’s new policy in August.

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the University also proposed a set of new sexual misconduct policies to more fully comply with Title IX as the Board of Visitors formulated a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault.

The proposed policy more explicitly defines the channels through which victims can respond to sexual assault, expands the University’s definition of sexual assault and modifies the judicial and reporting procedures related to circumstances of misconduct.

Board of Visitor’s member Helen Dragas proposed a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault on Nov. 25. It was passed unanimously.

“We're not as good as we should be," Sullivan said in her statement to the Board. "Our job now is to channel the energy and the passion into action. Together, we need to work together to isolate and exclude any subculture of deviance."

Efforts to implement a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault will be in place by the start of next semester. Sullivan also announced plans to improve lighting, bolster security measures and create a police substation on the Corner by the spring semester.