Victims' legacy? UVA overhauls sexual assault policy

Yeardley Love, Liz Seccuro, Annie Hylton, and Kathryn Russell are high-profile names whose cases have given the University of Virginia a reputation for something other than academic excellence: the alleged mishandling of sexual assault and domestic violence cases. On Thursday, May 6, UVA announced it was making some changes, as Vice President and Chief of Student Affairs led a press conference announcing a complete policy overhaul which Lampkin hopes will become a "national model."

"We want people to know we care about this issue," said Lampkin.

In addition to placing more emphasis on assistance to victims, clarifying the definition of "effective consent" and "incapacitation," other proposed changes include:
•the addition of harassment, stalking, relationship violence, cyberstalking, recording or transmitting sexual images, and the knowing transmittal of an STD;
•changing the evidentiary standard from "clear and convincing evidence" (as with crimes) to "a preponderance of the evidence," (the lower threshold used in civil lawsuits);
•the elimination of mediation, in which victims would engage directly with their assailants;
•removal of time and jurisdictional limits, meaning that the university can adjudicate cases that occur off grounds and press cases well beyond the previous one-year limit to any time that the accused student is enrolled.

Lampkin acknowledges that the rewritten policy has been shaped, at least in part, by a new set of guidelines issued by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which colleges and universities must follow in order to comply with Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law best known for its role in boosting women's sports at the college level.

"We're pleased to see progress," says S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for the nonprofit Security on Campus. Carter says he is particularly pleased to see the university change the standard of proof.

"That," he says, "is something we have been trying to get UVA to change for four or five years."

But while praising the effort, Carter finds that at least one significant problem remains: that under the new proposed policy, the university would still keep the reasons for rulings on sexual assault cases confidential– even from the involved parties. While UVA claims such secrecy is required by FERPA, the federal law dictating student record confidentiality, Carter believes the interpretation is incorrect; and he's not alone.

"I think when somebody goes through a panel like this, to not give them a reason for their findings can leave the survivor without closure," says Annie Hylton McLaughlin. About six years ago, via a pair of Hook cover stories ("How UVA Turns its back on rape" and "Her day in court: UVA rape case goes to trial," the now 28-year-old asserted that her alleged rape was mishandled by the university (although a jury decided in her civil action against the alleged assailant that she was simply a victim of sexual negligence).

Other sexual assault activists have mixed reactions to news of UVA's overhauled policy.

"It's a hollow victory," says Susan Russell, the founder of, whose daughter, Kathryn Russell, left UVA after she claimed she was raped and nothing was done about it.

"The fact that they're changing protocol shows that they needed to change," says Russell. "You don't change things that don't need to be fixed."

But Liz Seccuro, allegedly raped in a UVA fraternity house in 1984 and whose assailant was convicted of aggravated sexual battery in 2007 after sending a letter of apology, says she feels hopeful.

"It's a great step in the right direction, but it means nothing unless students understand they have somewhere to go, that they can indeed say something if they see something without fear of reprisal and that the University takes this as seriously as it can," says Seccuro.

Seccuro also says the university's stated goal may be a bit lofty.

"Let's focus on being successful in Charlottesville before striving to be a 'national model,'" she says. "Rome wasn't built in a day."

The entire policy is posted online, and the university is inviting community input through May 20.


So far, this story has attracted no comments, compared to the story on the lying law student, which has 27 posts.

@Did. Do you have something constructive to add?

No comments could be because no one truly believes that things will change. UVa is a school, and policies are only words written on paper. The school is made up of people, men & women in positions of authority and the male/female students that attend as well as support staff.

Can those sitting in their ivory towers who write these policies truly be held accountable for the actions of the students? In theory, they could have a zero tolerance policy and make examples of students behavior, but the fact remains, each situation is different, and as a business (Yes, UVA is a business), their goal is to make money. To kick out a student who has a bank full of money and a daddy who holds the ATM card, UVA admins will not be able to kick out every spoiled/irresponsible child that attends. With that said...stuff will happen because of the tendency to turn a blind eye to bad behavior, until something really bad - such as Yeardley Love's senseless murder, happens. Then you will see them scramble again to try and set firmer (whatever) policies. You have 2 UVA LAW students currently in the spotlight for their behavior...Lets just wait and see what happens next...

Well said, I am waiting to see if the proof is in the pudding.

@Chris. An observation that a racist lie garners more attention/concern that physical/mental abuse of women.

Check out those two smiling as if they are happy with being forced to change their policy of the last twenty years which very effectively covered up every sexual assault that was ever reported to them!

22 years. 22,000 students. A drink till blackout and hookup culture. Zero sexual assaults prosecuted by UVA's private, armed militia answerable to no one besides Casteen, Sandridge, and the rest of the UVA administration.

Amazing, huh?

We can only hope that Susan Russell's bill in the General Assembly becomes law ASAP.

@Did. yep, that is a constructive comment. Should have led with it.

@roadtrip. The previous policies were horrible. The new policies, at least on paper, seem somewhat improved. I still don't think the culture is one that will allow for the kinds of responses that I'd like to see. Zero tolerance should be the rule. The problem that comes with it, though, is that students are still entitled to due process. The school can't just override that. There have to be codified procedures and processes and hearings such that all students are treated fairly. That said, I think that along the lines of the honor code, once a student is found guilty of committing a sexual assault the police should be involved if the victim wishes it and the student found guilty should be expelled.

As you say, let's see what happens next. A new policy is all well and good, but ultimately it's the implementation that matters most.

Perhaps law student Perkins should pick up this cause and run with it. He is very credible.

Just to clarify, the new policies are not original and thought out by Lampkin and Davis. The new policies just place the school in compliance with Title IX and they still are in conflict with the Clery act. The new policies don't make them a national model, they make them compliant with current law. And that's the least they should be doing.

@Sean - UVa Police are sworn officers, certified by The Commonwealth of Virginia.

@WTF? Yes, they are. And they are paid by and report to the University of Virgina president, not the local or State police. Therefore, they take their marching orders from the University President. Should they perform in a less that stellar way, the State Police have no ability to perform an in-house investigation . Ergo, they are University employees and perform their duties o the standard and rules dictated by the University.

And that's why HB2490 was brought forward to the General Assembly.

There has been no public statement by President Sullivan to say that she welcomes the local police to assist with felony crime investigations on her campus. Why not? What does UVA have to hide?. If you have never been affected by crime, you wouldn't even notice the jurisdictional guidelines - but if you have been a victim of campus crime, you know all too well that jurisdiction makes a huge difference in the outcome of the case. And the average citizen just does not comprehend nor wants to hear about jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, for me to say this, many good UVA cops will take offense. But it only takes one mishandled case to require the lawmakers to step in and change the laws so no more cases fall through the cracks.

..."but if you have been a victim of campus crime, you know all too well that jurisdiction makes a huge difference in the outcome of the case. And the average citizen just does not comprehend nor wants to hear about jurisdiction." (Above)
So much has been said lately about the University's mishandling and outright tendency to ignore cases of rape on campus. The "lets not bring attention to ourselves in that way" MO makes the mind race with wondering just how much rape occurs on campus. Not until there is a murder here (or should I say murderS since the Harrington case has still not been solved) does the general public begin to take notice.
Chris's statement above, " I think that along the lines of the honor code, once a student is found guilty of committing a sexual assault the police should be involved if the victim wishes it and the student found guilty should be expelled", points precisely to the problem. Students are not tried and found guilty of committing sexual assault because reports and accusations are swept under the rug. Scenario: the victim is accused of being a willing participant or partially to blame, the lines are bluured, the guilt is shared, there is too much involved in pressing charges and proving rape, the already traumatized victim who can bear no more now sees silence as their only cocoon, the edge of the rug is lifted and voila, the house is clean...NOT. It is time for some major spring cleaning with some honest housekeepers at the helm.


First, I've been the victim of crime on the campus and I have to say that the University Police have been nothing less than stellar. The law going through the General Assembly is a joke, UPD has qualified and certified officers in their department that are completely capable of handling rape and sexual assaults. What I think we have going on at UVA is a situation where these women (note I said women, not girls, they are grown), are getting all liquored up and sleeping with people that they normally wouldn't "hook up" with, and therefore report it as a rape because, as I've heard at least three female students in the last year say, "He must have drugged and rapped me because there is no way that I would sleep with someone like that!". I understand making mistakes, I think that most of us have done it, however it's not rape. You're no more special than the next person, suck it up and continue on with life.

If having a campus police department was as bad as you all say it is, how come the state doesn't ban them?? And to say that the VSP doesn't have the authority to investigate isn't true at all. The VSP is almost always involved in a criminal investigation of another police department, look at all the times the county police have shot people, who investigates? The Virginia State Police.

Quote:"The women are getting all liquored up and sleeping with people that they normally wouldn't "hook up" with"
Yes, sadly this is often the case, but not always, as we know in the cases of the four women mentioned in this article. Unfortunately it does happen often enough that it affects the legitimate cases, a typical "cried wolf too many times" kind of thing. Sigh.