Va. task force meets on combating campus sexual violence

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A Virginia task force met for the first time on Thursday since a controversial Rolling Stone report that was later retracted claiming a student at the University of Virginia was gang raped.

The task force's mission is to combat campus sexual violence and come up with recommendations to do just that. It is an issue on college campuses everywhere, regardless of what happened in the University of Virginia case.

Jozephine Chance, a college student at Virginia Commonwealth University, knows students who have reported assaults, but complained the process dragged out for months.

"Nobody wants to help the victim," she said. "It's more like how can we get this over and done with and push it aside."

The issue was bolstered last fall by the Rolling Stone article, but then the woman's claims were called into question. Advocates for victims worried that could hurt efforts to deal with the problem. Virginia's attorney general says he won't let that derail the task force's mission.

"Just because more revelations have come out that call some of the reporting into question does not undermine our commitment to addressing this problem in Virginia," said Attorney General Mark Herring.

The task force formed last summer after the U.S. Department of Education launched investigations into Title IX violations against dozens of universities nationwide, including some in Virginia for how they handled sexual assault claims. Federal officials say there are a number of issues universities must address to deal with the problem.

"95 percent of violent crimes that occur on campuses involve alcohol abuse by one student or the other or both," said John DiPaolo, the agency's Deputy General Counsel for Departmental Law and Post Secondary Education. "So clearly alcohol is a problem on campus in general and it's a problem related to sexual assaults."

The task force has three committees, which have been meeting since October, that are expected to come back with recommendations in March on how to better handle sexual assaults and prevention on campus.

But at Virginia Commonwealth University, not all students are sure the task force has all the answers.

"I feel like in all honesty that's something the university can't fix," Jordan Atwood, a VCU student from Woodbridge said. "It will definitely show some results as far as statistics go, but when it comes to something like that the root of that problem is usually issues from family life."

Ideas being looked at involve prevention, better response and coordination with local law enforcement because some students say what colleges and universities are doing now doesn't work.

"As a friend of a sexual survivor here on this campus, I know it's been tough," said VCU student Laura Bryant.

Some state lawmakers have called for a law requiring all sexual assaults on campus be reported to local law enforcement. Advocates for sexual assault victims though believe there need to be some exceptions for victims to have confidentiality if they don't want to go to police.