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Virginia legislature passes bills to address campus sexual assault

Legislation ensures victim is aware of resources, support services

<p>Delegate Robert Bell is confident the policy will help prevent sexual assault </p>

Delegate Robert Bell is confident the policy will help prevent sexual assault 

The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate unanimously passed two identical bills Friday, House Bill 1930 and Senate Bill 712, addressing the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. The bills will be passed to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be signed into law.

The legislation ensures survivors have access to information about their options and support services, and establishes a procedure for handling charges of sexual assault.

The bills require university employees to report acts of sexual violence to the campus Title IX coordinator, who will in turn report the information to a committee comprised of the coordinator, a law enforcement representative and a student affairs representative. The team will meet within 72 hours after receiving the information to determine if immediate disclosure to law enforcement is necessary to protect the survivor or the public. In cases involving felony sexual assault, the team will notify the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Del. Robert Bell, R-Piedmont, the sponsor of HB 1930, said he believes the provisions will successfully combat sexual violence.

“The goal was to protect a sexual assault victim and to prevent future victims,” Bell said. “Within the parameters allowed by federal law, I believe this bill does a good job of meeting its goals.”

Sexual assault bills in the Virginia state legislature: 2015 session

"Duration" spans the lifetime of each bill, from introduction to most recent status.

The Senate bill initially required campus employees to report allegations of sexual assault to the police. This stipulation was modified after it drew criticism from advocacy groups who thought it violated survivors’ rights to confidentiality and would discourage them from reporting their attacks.

Fourth-year College student Win Jordan, a member of the all-male sexual assault peer education group One in Four, participated in a lobbying effort to remove the mandatory reporting component.

“We felt like that would really stifle survivors from coming forward if they couldn’t fully trust who they were confiding in,” Jordan said.

Emily Renda, University sexual assault awareness project coordinator, also said she prefers the legislation in its present form.

“As someone who is a survivor and comes from advocacy background, I was weary of the bill’s initial treatment of survivors as lacking agency,” Renda said. “It was almost paternalistic and patronizing. This current system is trying to strike a balance and preserve autonomy.”

Under the legislation, survivors of sexual assault can choose how much information to share with the threat assessment committee and how they would like to participate in the process. Even in cases where the team decides to take action against the alleged assailant or notify law enforcement based on factors in the report that involve risks to community safety, such as repeat offenders and misconduct perpetrated with a weapon or involving drugs and alcohol, there is no requirement for survivors to take part in the disciplinary process.

Renda said she believes the new procedure will ultimately lead to increased reporting.

“We may see an initial decline in reporting as tends to happen when policies are adjusted, but I would hope in the long-run to see more reporting once people get a better feel of how much control they have,” Renda said.