University of Virginia administrators apologized Tuesday to student victims of sexual assault and said they would toughen the school’s stance against such violence while "maximizing opportunities" for criminal prosecution. The Board of Visitors met publicly with student leaders to address a magazine report last week that detailed an alleged 2012 gang rape at a fraternity house.
"I’d like to say to [the victim] and her parents I am sorry, and to all survivors of sexual assault, I am sorry," George Martin, the board’s rector, told a packed meeting room. "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."
Board members later approved a resolution calling for a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault.
School officials have been criticized over their handling of sexual assaults, particularly among Greek associations, in light of the latest report. All fraternity and sorority activity was temporarily suspended Saturday after a Rolling Stone story detailed the alleged rape of an 18-year-old female freshman at a Phi Kappa Psi party. Martin said Tuesday that among the schools goals will be how to better train Greek organizations with recognizing sexual misconduct, dealing with underage drinking and creating an environment that doesn’t enable such attacks. An independent council, meanwhile, is also being set up to help determine appropriate punishments.
In a video uploaded to the website Vimeo, a school dean acknowledged that even students admitting to sexual assaults have not been expelled in at least seven years, according to the student-run news outlet WUVA.
Nicole Eramo, associate dean of students and head of UVA’s sexual misconduct board, said the lack of evidence can be a hindrance to bringing cases forward — even if a student confesses. “Well, in those cases, you need to understand that there hasn’t been a full investigation,” Eramo told WUVA. She added that there are times when the victim doesn't want their attacker expelled, but is satisfied to “look into the eyes of that other person and say you’ve wronged me in some way.”
Charlottesville police are investigating the case reported in Rolling Stone. Police Chief Timothy Longo pleaded at the meeting for bystanders to come forward. “There were people in that room who saw and heard what has been called shocking and horrifying and gut-wrenching and sickening … I hope that those bystanders have the moral courage to come forward.”
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