Following a scathing “Rolling Stone” article published Wednesday claiming that the University of Virginia’s party culture and prestige-focused administration allows sexual assault claims to get swept under the rug, the university has asked Charlottesville police to investigative a gang rape alleged in the article.
The 9,000-word article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely follows a third-year, identified only as “Jackie,” who says she was violently raped by seven men at a fraternity party as a first-year. Jackie’s friends discouraged her from going to the hospital, scared it might hurt their chances of joining a fraternity or getting into other parties.
Months later, according to the article, Jackie told Dean Nicole Eramo, head of UVa’s Sexual Misconduct Board, what happened. During their meeting, Eramo laid out Jackie’s options, including filing a criminal complaint with the police or going before the university’s misconduct board. Like most others who came to Eramo, the article states, Jackie decided not to press charges.
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City police spokesman Lt. Steve Upman said the department is in the preliminary stages of investigating the 2012 incident. He declined to comment further.
UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan released a statement Wednesday night, stating the university’s commitment to preventing sexual assault.
“The University takes seriously the issue of sexual misconduct, a significant problem that colleges and universities are grappling with across the nation,” Sullivan said in the statement. “Our goal is to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire University community.”
Erdely said UVa reinforced one of her major arguments in her article — that UVa administration focuses on prestige and appearance over student safety — with Sullivan’s statement.
“I am writing in response to a Rolling Stone magazine article that negatively depicts the University of Virginia and its handling of sexual misconduct cases,” Sullivan said at the beginning of the statement.
“It goes to show what their priorities are here — the fact that she would go out of her way to say I negatively depicted the university — this is the first thing on their minds,” Erdely said. “They need to be putting student safety first.”
Erdely talked to several women for the article who had experiences similar to Jackie’s at UVa. The women said they were sexually assaulted and then chastised by friends and let down by an administration that, since 1998, has expelled 183 students for violations such as cheating on exams but expelled none for sexual assault, according to the article.
“It’s because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal,” Erdely says in the article.
UVa is one of 86 schools under investigation by the federal government for Title IX violations such as allegedly denying students their right to equal education to students by mishandling sexual assault claims.
The university released a proposed revision to the student sexual misconduct policy Wednesday for public comment. According to a statement from the university, it was last updated in July 2011.
The proposed policy includes adding and strengthening definitions of several aspects of domestic violence, sexual assault and consent. It also aims to lay out how victims can get access to resources and how the university can better investigate reports of sexual assault and resolve complaints.
When starting the article this summer, Erdely said she was looking to find an elite school that also represented what she said is a nationwide problem.
“When I started talking to students at UVa, I started hearing some horrific stories,” she said. “The sexual assault situation at UVa is very disturbing, but I chose UVa because I felt it was representative of what happens at every school. My sense from experts is that it’s no worse at any other school. If anything, what happens at UVa is the norm.”
Lisa Richey, a Charlottesville resident who graduated from UVa in 2003, said her outrage after reading the article compelled her to take action. She started the UVrApe Alumni Victims Defense Fund on Wednesday night to raise money for rape victims at UVa to get legal help outside of the school.
“It would still be confidential and it wouldn’t cost the students anything and it wouldn’t be in their UVa record,” Richey said. “Something needs to be done, and it sounds this is a problem a lot of universities have, and if universities can’t stop it, alumni have to stop it.”
Richey is hoping to raise $50,000 to start with, and she said she’s going to reach out to attorneys who would be willing to help students at what she hopes would be a reduced fee. She’s still working out a plan, but she said she wanted to get this started while everyone is still angered.
“I just thought the best way to channel that rage was that if we could do something to help the survivors,” Richey said. “We want to stop the rapes but we don’t know how.”
Richey has made a Facebook page for the group and started the fundraiser on CrowdRise. She had raised $415 by 9:30 p.m., about 2½ hours after starting the page.
There were 27 reported rapes at UVa in 2013, up from 11 in 2012, according to data from the Clery Act. Twenty additional offenses were reported to have occurred off Grounds last year, nine of which took place on public property, according to the annual security report published by the school.
Earlier this month, university spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said the increase is most likely due to a more open dialogue about coming forward as opposed to an increase in incidents.
“In the past year, the university has adopted several new initiatives and policies aimed at fostering a culture of reporting and providing an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire university community,” de Bruyn said. “Therefore, it is not unexpected that we would see an increase in the number of reports as members of the community become more aware and more sensitive to issues related to sexual misconduct.”
These efforts include Hoos Got Your Back, a campaign that began in August to ramp up bystander intervention in dangerous situations.