Feds investigate U.Va, W&M over sexual assault complaints

Posted at 11:16 PM, May 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-03 11:20:14-04

(WTVR)-Two Virginia public universities are working to enhance their sexual assault policies and practices after the United States Department of Education placed them on a list of universities and colleges being investigated for possibly not properly handling sexual assault complaints.

The two Virginia schools on the list are the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary.

CBS 6 visited U. Va and spoke with students, including victims of sexual assault, who said they are pleased with prevention and education efforts being made at the school, but said there is still work to be done.

Annie Forrest is one of those students.

The Southwest Virginia native said she was raped off campus in her first year, by a friend of her friend’s brother.

“He started being more forceful.. He said don’t try to stop this. We both know what’s going to happen,” Forrest said.

Forrest never reported the rape to police or U.Va.

“I didn’t know it was rape at the time, I hadn’t been well education on sexual assault,” Forrest said.

She now wants to ensure that other students are educated and perpetrators are held accountable.

“No students has ever been expelled for sex assault or rape of another student,” Forrest said.

U.Va is one of more than 50 schools across the country being investigated by the federal government for the way they handle sexual assault complaints.

In a statement released to the media, U.Va said "The University has been working with the OCR since summer of 2011 on its review of our policies and systems in the area  of Title IX/sexual misconduct. The University has worked to provide OCR any information needed, and will continue to do so."

Emily Renda, also a U.Va student who survived a sexual assault, is part of the White House task force to protect students from sexual assault under Title 9 laws.

“A lot of these investigations come out of mishandling of cases because schools aren’t exactly sure how to implement the law in the best way to help victims,” Renda said.

She said a large part of the issue for universities involves liability.

“We care about the rights of the men and women who are accused, we care about the rights of the men and women who are survivors…we need to know how to subsequently balance so we can make things work,” Renda said.

It is a delicate balance that students at U.Va said is often thrown off kilter by alcohol.

“One side is not recognizing the state the other person is in,” Sebastian Loria, a U.Va senior said.

“I have friends where drinking has been involved and consent is questionable…it’s hard to know what to do in those situations,” Lindsey Gulla, a U.Va senior said.

The College of William and Mary released the following statement in response to the list.

"We have received notification about a complaint made to the Office of Civil Rights and we are working with them to provide all the information they requested. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prohibits the university from discussing the details of the specific case that led to this but, in general, we can affirm that sexual violence response and education is an area we are very focused on. We continually look at our own practices to determine if they can be improved or enhanced."

Research done by CBS 6 uncovered which Virginia schools saw the largest number of criminal forcible sex offenses between 2010 and 2012 (the most recent years that data is available from the Department of Education).

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and the University of Richmond had the highest number of forcible sex offenses in those three years.

The University of Virginia reported 41.
Virginia Tech reported 27.
The University of Richmond reported 25.

The University of Richmond sent us the following statement when asked about the number of forcible sex offenses:

“The university devotes substantial resources to programs designed to prevent sexual assault through education and peer intervention. This has led to an increase in reporting. We view this as a positive because our education efforts are working and individuals are comfortable reporting.”