Dear Mason Community,
The Governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, of which I was a member, recently developed a list of 21 recommendations that we believe will help make students safer on Virginia college campuses.
The task force, chaired by Attorney General Mark Herring, included state officials, students, law enforcement and health professionals, community advocates and higher education leaders. Our recommendations are evidence-based and practical and almost all of them can be implemented by each public and private college and university in the state. Some of our recommendations would require legislation.
You can read the full report here. To summarize, our recommendations fall under five main themes:
• Engaging Our Campuses and Communities in Comprehensive Prevention: We must, as our report states, change societal norms, increase awareness and modify risk behaviors. To do that, each college and university must develop a comprehensive prevention strategy involving the entire university community. We’re also encouraging the Virginia Department of Education to start an early prevention program in K-12 schools so that all students understand what healthy relationships entail and what responsibility they have in bystander intervention.
• Minimizing Barriers to Reporting: We need to provide innovative, clear and accessible reporting methods, such as an online option, so that victims/survivors will be inclined to seek help. We want them to feel empowered to report, not reluctant, for the reasons they frequently cite (fear of not being believed, apprehension over the reaction of others, feelings of guilt and shame, confusion about the reporting process, fear of legal consequences). To help, we must know. To hold offenders accountable, we must know.
• Cultivating a Coordinated and Trauma-Informed Response: From the moment of the disclosure of campus sexual violence to campus personnel or other law enforcement or medical professionals, our support must be coordinated and immediate and services and options clearly explained. Some of our recommendations in this category require legislation. For example, we advise that state colleges and universities establish Sexual Assault Response Teams and that the collection and storage procedures of Physical Evidence Recovery Kits be improved.
• Sustaining and Improving Campus Policies and Ensuring Compliance: We must develop guidelines to help institutions understand their legal obligations. Policies must be clear, transparent and consistent and geared toward a survivor-centered response to convey an institution’s commitment to a safe and just learning and working environment. Policies, procedures and protocols must be fair to victims, individuals who report and the accused. We recommend that universities conduct climate surveys at least once every two years to learn more about their campus culture and to monitor the effectiveness of their prevention and response efforts.
• Institutionalizing the Work of the Task Force and Fostering Ongoing Collaborations: We must implement these recommendations to eradicate this problem and we must remain persistent in our efforts by sharing information and resources across agencies. This will enable us to develop the most effective prevention and response programs. We must continually evaluate our practices, individually and through statewide advisory groups.
I applaud Gov. Terry McAuliffe for bringing his full attention to this critical issue that affects the well-being of thousands of students every year. Virginia has emerged as a national leader on combating campus sexual violence. College students nationwide, and at Mason, have been thoughtful and vocal leaders in the effort to find solutions to a problem that has persisted far too long.
I am pleased to report that most of our recommendations are common practice for us at George Mason due in large part to the previously appointed university task force to examine the issue. Those that are not, we will work to implement.
This state task force was a major first step. Now we need to put our recommendations into action and continually seek creative and effective ways to address this issue.
We all share a common goal to keep our students safe.