The University of Virginia (UVA) is redoubling its efforts to address the issue of sexual violence on campus in the wake of intense scrutiny kicked off last month by a Rolling Stone article detailing an alleged brutal sexual assault at one fraternity house in 2012.
The Rolling Stone article gives the account of one student who says she was gang-raped at a fraternity party her freshmen year and goes on to detail her frustration with the administration's and her peers' responses to the allegations. In the article, the victim says she felt abandoned by the school and many of her classmates. She did not file a police report, but did report the incident to UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board.
UVA President Teresa Sullivan came under criticism that her initial statement in response to the allegations lacked empathy and did not use the word "rape." Her follow-up statement, issued three days later, was more explicit and outlined several steps the campus would take to deal with the issue of sexual assault. The measures included suspending all Greek activities until January and appointing an independent investigator to review the university's policies and procedures.
Next step: boosting support services
Sullivan addressed the student body on Monday, singling out the role of alcohol in perpetuating sexual violence—though she took care to avoid blaming victims. "Alcohol does not cause rape, but alcohol is often a tool of the predator," she said.
She stressed awareness, mentioning the women's typically lighter body weight means alcohol's effects are quicker to take hold. "The predators certainly know this," Sullivan continued. "Serving sweet-tasting but high-proof punches to women, while the guys sip a few beers, is often described as the prelude for taking advantage of the women."
During her address, Sullivan also announced new steps to combat sexual assault on campus, including:
- Adding an additional trauma counselor to the women's center;
- Providing training to all students and faculty on how to intervene to prevent sexual assault, and;
- Conducting an anonymous student survey on sexual violence.
Establishing anonymous sexual assault reporting
Questions on Rolling Stone's reporting
Meanwhile, some are raising questions about how Rolling Stone chose to report the story that led to the controversy. Specifically, the New York Times reported the story's writer, Sabrina Erdely, had not requested comments from the accused men mentioned in her article.
“I am convinced that it could not have been done any other way, or any better,” Erdely responded. She added that the alleged victim had been extremely sensitive about outing her assailants publicly, and that she intended to focus of the story on UVA's handling of the case, rather than the incident itself.
Some experts defended Erdely. “If a reporter were doing a story about a university accused of failing to address the mugging or robbery of a student, that reporter would not be expected to interview the alleged mugger or robber,” says Helen Benedict, a Columbia University journalism professor. Many articles about sexual assaults on college campuses do not include comments from the alleged perpetrator (Mulhere, Inside Higher Ed, 12/2; Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 11/24; Somaiya, New York Times, 12/2).
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