A shocking account of a gang rape at a University of Virginia (UVA) fraternity party is the latest in a string of sexual assault headlines that have spurred a national outcry from campuses to Capitol Hill.
“I was outraged when I read the Rolling Stone report, but I wasn’t totally surprised,” Virginia Senator Mark Warner told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “This is not just a problem at UVA. Unfortunately, it’s a problem all across the country.”
The alleged UVA assault took place in 2012, the same year that the nation’s oldest public university was named Playboy’s top-ranked party school. Fusion’s Linsey Davis went to campus to report on the fallout there.
In the wake of the Rolling Stone story, UVA protesters are calling for substantial new restrictions on Greek life or its complete elimination. They’re also taking the administration to task for its handling of sexual assault allegations, particularly the lack of outrage in university President Teresa A. Sullivan’s initial response and a history of lenient sexual assault punishments compared to offenses like cheating.
“I know that the Board of Visitors and the president have taken action in the last week. I wish they would’ve acted a little bit quicker, but they’re now acting,” Senator Warner said. “They brought in the Charlottesville Police Department, and beyond those facts I don’t know any of the particulars.”
UVA is one of 86 schools being investigated by the White House for violating Title IX’s equal-rights protections by mishandling sexual assault cases, the Rolling Stone article reported, and attorney Wendy Murphy is also pursuing legal action against UVA and other schools.
“Statistics show that one out of every five women are victims of sexual assault when they’re out on college campuses,” Senator Warner said. “It’s actually safer not to be in college than it is to be in college.”
This summer, Warner and three other Democratic senators joined four Republican senators to co-sponsor the Campus Accountability and Safety Act to address campus sexual assaults. The bill calls for a uniform system for universities to follow and victims to rely on in a sexual assault, as well as a public online record universities must join to document sexual assault cases on their campuses.
The bill’s future will be determined by the Republican-controlled Congress starting in 2015, as it won’t be taken up by before the end of this year’s term. Critics claim that the proposal unfairly favors accusers over the accused and that projects like the public record create unnecessary new regulations.
“I think there needs to be this common database,” Senator Warner said. “And I think there needs to be consistency both in terms of the ability to prosecute these cases, the ability to make sure the victim has got somebody on campus to turn to in that immediate aftermath, and that there is appropriate due process on both sides.”
From Bill Cosby to sex trafficking, Rolling Stone’s UVA report is only the latest example of a jarring and pervasive issue demanding further attention and action in communities and governments nationwide. Senator Warner expressed hope that calls for action won’t be lost to our usual political fractiousness.
“I think there’s nothing partisan about the issue of sexual assault on campus,” he said.