Dishonor At The Honorable University: Sexual Assault at UVA

Sexual assault is real and it happens at Mr. Jefferson’s University, too. Between 2010 and 2012, there were forty-one reported instances of sexual assault at UVA. By 2013, the number of reported assaults had risen from eleven to twenty-seven. This, however, is not to say that grounds is any more dangerous now than in previous years. In fact, one could venture to say that these numbers signal a glimmer of hope: more people feel comfortable coming forward to report sexual assaults.

“Is it honorable for the University to support a Zero Tolerance policy for cheating but not for rape?”

The Sexual Misconduct Board of UVA, defines sexual misconduct as “a broad range of behavior that will not be tolerated in the University’s community of trust.” Furthermore, allegations of sexual assault are expected to be “resolved” in two ways. A Formal Resolution involves an investigation and possible hearing before the Sexual Misconduct Board, while an Informal Resolution consists of a student filing a complaint with less stringent proceedings. This process, however, does not always lead to justice.

“Is it honorable for the University to support a Zero Tolerance policy for cheating but not for rape?”

Almost a decade ago to date, The Hook published an article entitled “How UVA Turns Its Back on Rape,” in which Annie Hylton recounted her rape by a fellow Wahoo. While he was found guilty by the Sexual Assault Board, Annie’s rapist was allowed to remain at the University until his 2003 graduation.

“Is it honorable for the University to support a Zero Tolerance policy for cheating but not for rape?”

The Honor Committee defines an Honor Offense as “a significant Act of Lying, Cheating or Stealing, which Act is committed with Knowledge,” and students who break the honor code are expelled on the basis of the “single sanction rule.” If we are to maintain the community of trust, students should be held to same standard when accused of sexual assault as they are when accused of copying a friend’s calculus homework. The Honor Committee employs three criteria to determine whether a committed act constitutes an Honor Offense:

“Act: Was an act of lying, cheating or stealing committed?”

“Knowledge: Did the student know, or should a reasonable University student have known, that the Act in question was Lying, Cheating, or Stealing?”

“Significance: Would Open toleration of this Act violate or erode the community of trust?”

Personally, I do not think it would be unreasonable to apply these criteria to instances of sexual assault, but UVA believes in a different approach. This is patent in the statistics. In the past 14 years, UVA has not expelled a single student for sexual assault. However, there were at least six students expelled for honor code violations, during the 2014 academic term alone.

“Is it honorable for the University to support a Zero Tolerance policy for cheating but not for rape?”

In March 2014, an anonymous woman filed a lawsuit against UVA. The complaint described an alleged drugging and brutal rape by a fellow Wahoo, in graphic detail. Astonishingly, the accused student confirmed much of what the complainant recounted, including acknowledging her having said no to any sexual interaction. Ultimately, the student was cleared of all but one offense – touching her at a club meeting. Sexual assault cases end in such a disappointing manner all too often.

“Is it honorable for the University to support a Zero Tolerance policy for cheating but not for rape?”

Through my research, I found that those who reported sexual assaults at UVA maintain one major commonality: they all felt shamed. A decade later and sexual assault policies still lead to victim blaming. By placing so much emphasis on honor offenses and so little on sexual assault, the University belittles the experiences of both past and present survivors. We must do better if our community of trust is to thrive. So we ask: 

“Is it honorable for the University to support a Zero Tolerance policy for cheating but not for rape?”