Higher education counsel, risk managers, and student affairs officers would be wise to review the report and recommendations issued by a State of Virginia Task Force for the purpose of addressing campus sexual violence. Although I will not say that this is a “best practice” document, it can serve as a useful benchmarking instrument for campuses that are undertaking a review of their campus sexual assault/violence policies and procedures (aside from the dictates that have been issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights). The following is a summary of the 21 recommendations issued by the Task Force that are categorized according to 5 themes that emerged from the Task Force’s work. It is important to note that the Task Force report itself is lengthy and each of the themes and recommendations are more fully explained in the Appendices to the report. A summary of the themes and recommendations follow.
(1). Engaging Campuses and Communities in Comprehensive Prevention. Campuses should engage in efforts to “…prevent future victimizations by increasing awareness, changing attitudes, modifying high-risk behaviors, and to impact campus culture and change social norms.” Recommendations specific to this theme are:
- R1. Each college is to develop a comprehensive prevention plan supported and implemented by a team composed of administrators, faculty members, staff and students;
- R2. Law enforcement prevention efforts are to included in the plan;
- R3. Creation of small grants programs to fund research on sexual & gender based violence prevention programs; and
- R4. Healthy relationship & bystander intervention programming should be included in K-12 schools,
(2). Minimizing Barriers to Reporting. To overcome fears that victims have about reporting a sexual assault, the task force indicated that victims should be provided clear & simple information about reporting options, and that they will believe that their case will be handled professionally and with sensitivity. Recommendations specific to this theme are as follows:
- R5. Use emerging technologies, infographics, and add on-line portal options for reporting sexual violence;
- R6. Issue a Clery Timely Warning Notice for every felony sexual assault report that will include appropriate prevention messaging and resource information;
- R7. Pilot a VAWA funded “You Have Options” Program from the Ashland Police Department (Oregon);
- R8. Adopt a “Start by Believing” public awareness campaign (with the Governor and Attorney General playing prominent roles) that can help building the trust of victims to report their assault to law enforcement and other officials.
(3). Cultivating a Coordinated and Trauma-Informed Response. Campuses are to provide a multidisciplinary, victim-centered approach to service delivery and investigation which will help responders mitigate the trauma experienced by victims. Recommendations specific to this theme are as follows:
- R9. *Public and private institutions shall establish Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs);
- R10. *The Department of criminal Justice Services shall provide curriculum and training in trauma-informed sexual assault investigations;
- R11. Follow the International Association of Forensic Nurses’ “Sexual Assault Nurses Examiners Guidelines” in all courses offered for SANE/Forensic Nurse Examiners.
- R12. Use MOU’s to formalize relationships between colleges/universities and local sexual assault crisis centers;
- R13. *Colleges/Universities shall have MOU’s with either the Virginia State Police or their local law enforcement agency;
- R14. *New legislation should be passed that will mandate that law enforcement collect and store evidence in blind reporting cases (where the victim has evidence collected but chooses not to file a report with law enforcement at the time of the forensics exam);
- R15. *Conduct a study for the purpose of establishing standards of care or metrics for response services and appropriate staffing for responding to reports of sexual violence on campus.
* Requires an amendment to a Virginia Code.
(4). Sustaining and Improving Campus Policies and Ensuring Compliance, The Task Force emphasized that institutional policies and procedures must encourage reporting and hold accountable those who are responsible for violating conduct policies, and that the policies and procedures should be clear, transparent, fair, and consistently applied. Recommendations specific to this theme are as follows:
- R16. Develop guidelines for addressing compliance obligations under applicable laws and regulations;
- R17. Have fair and equitable proceedings, adequate support and due process for the accused, and sanctions proportionate to the severity of the offense;
- R18. Conduct climate surveys at least bi-annually at public institutions.
(5). Institutionalizing the Work of the Task Force and Fostering Ongoing Collaborations. Mechanisms need to be established to implementing and improving upon solutions for the prevention of and response to sexual violence. Recommendations specific to this theme are as follows:
- R19. Establish a committee to continue the progress made by the Task Force by coordinating research, best practices, legislative changes, technical assistance, and consultative services;
- R20. Convene a permanent advisory body on School and Campus Safety;
- R21. Create a network for faculty members, staff, students and community members engaged in sexual violence prevention and education.
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