RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The University of Virginia and the Department of Education have reached an agreement over its handling of sexual assault complaints, ending a yearslong federal investigation into the school’s procedures and policies, university and federal officials said Monday.
UVA has been under investigation since 2011 for not following Title IX in how it handles sexual assault investigations.
The department said Monday that UVA failed over the past several years to promptly respond to some sexual assault complaints and created a “hostile environment” for victims. But it also praised the university for recently overhauling its policies to fully comply with Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program.
The university has agreed to take several additional steps, including implementing a system for tracking and reviewing reports and investigations; training students, faculty and administrators on the university’s procedures; and ensuring that agreements with groups such as fraternities and sororities clearly state that sexual violence is prohibited.
UVA will also review all complaints heard by its sexual misconduct board over the last several years to determine if the cases were handled appropriately.
Wendy Murphy, who represents a woman who said she was a victim of sexual assault at UVA in 2011, said that requiring the school to re-examine these old complaints is significant.
“The family, the victim and I are looking forward to UVA’s reconsideration of her case because even though it’s many years later, and she can’t reclaim those years, she absolutely can benefit emotionally and psychologically from the fact that justice can still be served on campus,” Murphy said.
While the investigation is complete, the department will monitor the university’s progress in implementing the changes over the next three years.
UVA was one of 55 schools that the department announced last year was under investigation for Title IX complaints stemming from sexual violence. Since then, that figure has more than doubled.
The department said that UVA violated Title IX by not “promptly and equitably” responding to certain instances of sexual assault, including some that involved fraternities.
It also said that the school’s previous sexual violence and harassment policy was unfair to either complainants or those accused of sexual assault.
But UVA has made several improvements to its policy and now has the first university policy that is fully compliant with Title IX since new guidelines were released in 2014, the department said.
Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel and director of equal opportunities in athletics at the National Women’s Law Center, said the findings of the investigation are unique to UVA, but the problems are found in schools nationwide. She said she hopes the report will encourage other schools to make similar changes.
“It confirms what we hear from students across the country: that there are problems in terms of universities’ responses to sexual assault,” Chaudhry said.
UVA President Teresa Sullivan said many of the measures outlined in the report are already in place.
“By signing the resolution agreement, we have reaffirmed our commitment to continue taking steps we believe to be an important part of effective responses to sexual harassment and assault — urgent and complex societal issues of national importance that are challenging institutions of higher education and beyond,” Sullivan said in a statement.
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