VIRGINIA — Police departments at public universities in Virginia could be required to report incidents of sexual assault to local prosecutors under a bill introduced in the state legislature on Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. David Albo, would require the departments to report incidents of sexual assault to the local Commonwealth attorney within 48 hours of receiving the report, providing another avenue to access information about reported incidents.
Gil Harrington, president of the nonprofit Help Save the Next Girl, which promotes personal safety and violence protection on college campuses, said the bill would standardize how universities handle and respond to incidents of sexual assault.
“College students should have the same treatment and response time as non-college students in these cases,” she said.
Trina Murphy, who helped push for the rules after her niece went missing in August 2013, said transparency is important when colleges handle sexual assault incidents because the community has a right to know what is happening on campus and when someone poses a threat to the community.
“Whether in a fraternity house, dorm room, parking garage or research facility, everyone on campus should feel safe and be protected,” Filler-Corn said in a media release.
In November, an SPLC/The Columbus Dispatch investigation showed how offenders can easily transfer between different institutions because of the secrecy that surrounds college judicial processes.
Universities often cite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal student privacy law, to deny the release of information about campus sexual assaults although the law allows universities to release names, types of offenses and sanctions in cases of violent offenses. Colleges often handle crime and punishment without reporting offenses to local law enforcement, the SPLC/The Columbus Dispatch investigation found, and most cases never go to court.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh found a student responsible for sexual assault. He got a written reprimand, banned from his dorm for a month and told he could not have minors as guests.
Similarly, Miami University found a student responsible of sexually assaulting a woman and stealing another woman’s pizza on campus. He was placed on probation and told to write an essay.
In 2008, the Department of Education found the University of Virginia misinterpreted FERPA with a policy that made sexual assault victims agree they would not speak about their case with a third party. Under the policy, the university Judiciary Committee could charge the victim with misconduct.
University spokesman Anthony de Bruyn declined to comment on the pending legislation.
Murphy said the bill has received criticism because it only applies to public institutions and does not require the university to take any action against the accused student. But, this bill serves as a foundation, she said, and will be expanded upon in later sessions.
“It’s clear we need new action to prevent these assaults,” Filler-Corn said in the release. “My bill is designed to encourage a thorough investigation by our justice system and promote information sharing to stop sexual predators from jumping from campus to campus.”
Contact SPLC staff writer Mariana Viera by email or at (202) 478-1926.