UVA Apologizes To Rape Victim & Adopts A Zero-Tolerance Policy On Sexual Assault, The First Step Of Many

By now, it should be clear that sexual assault is a major — and commonplace — issue on college campuses. This past year alone has been plagued with shocking accounts of rape, but the most recent report — a Rolling Stone exposé that detailed a horrific gang rape at the University of Virginia — has been one of the most disturbing. One week after the story was published, UVA officials have apologized to the victim in the story and vowed to enforce tougher policies in handling sexual assault on campus. It's an admirable first step, but that's exactly what it is — the first step in a long process of policy and cultural reform.

UVA's Board of Visitors met publicly with student leaders on Tuesday to address the report and the school's sexual assault policies. George Martin, the board’s rector, gave the following statement:

I'd like to say to [the victim] and her parents I am sorry, and to all survivors of sexual assault, I am sorry. As we said last week, this type of conduct will not be tolerated at the University of Virginia. The status quo is not accepatable. Like all of you gathered here today, I am appalled.

The Rolling Stone story detailed the nightmarish experience of one girl, identified as Jackie in the article, who was gang-raped by seven fraternity brothers at a Phi Kappa Psi party. As with most sexual assault reporters, her nightmare didn't end there; she faced alienation from friends and less-than-helpful administrators. The article shed light on how often incidents like this might be taking place at UVA, suggesting that the university is more concerned with protecting its own image than its students. After the exposé was published, UVA was left with no choice but to address the issue.

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Following the publication of the article, UVA's president, Teresa A. Sullivan, issued a statement to the campus community:

The wrongs described in Rolling Stone are appalling and have caused all of us to reexamine our responsibility to this community. Rape is an abhorrent crime that has no place in the world, let alone on the campuses and grounds of our nation’s colleges and universities.

Sullivan also asked the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the 2012 assault described in the article and has called for the individuals involved in the incident to come forward. As for preliminary disciplinary action, UVA has suspended all fraternities until January 9. But is that enough? Regardless of the appropriate punishment for the alleged attackers, the school has a long way to go in making things right. It seems, for now, it's trying to work on the first steps.

Following Tuesday's meeting, an independent review council is being formed to examine how UVA investigates rape reports. Together with students, the Board of Visitors also discussed measures that would make it easier and more encouraging for victims to come forward. Most importantly, the board is now adopting a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual assault. Why they didn't have one in place until now is a mystery, but better late than never.