ACLU wants to know if VA universities are following the law - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

ACLU wants to know if VA universities are following the law

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Are Virginia universities properly responding to sexual assault cases? That's an answer the American Civil Liberties Union wants to know. The group says federal laws specifically regulate how institutions should respond.

It can happen anywhere at any time, even on college campuses. Its why the ACLU says a quick response and investigation when sexual assaults occur are important.

It can often be a taboo topic, leaving victims ashamed and uncomfortable speaking out.

"It's much easier to talk about domestic violence and much harder to talk about rape," said Claire Gastanaga with the Virginia ACULA.

She says its why the commonwealth's universities need a uniform approach to handling sexual assaults.

"The incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct on college campuses, while estimated to be 1 in 5 students, it's grossly unreported for that reason," she said.

The group is requesting information from all 15 Virginia public universities regarding policy. It comes a year after federal education officials outlined guidelines schools should follow.

"I think some colleges would have completed the process of revaluating their policies and implementing new policies and procedures. Some will be in process. I wouldn't be surprised if there are one or two that are lagging behind," Gastanaga said.

Per Virginia Commonwealth University's policy, a student who feels he or she is a victim should file a complaint verbally or in writing to the Dean of Student Affairs who will then immediately investigate. VCU also has a sexual assault problem-solving representative on campus when a victim needs to talk.

Gastanaga wants to know if all universities in Virginia are responding adequately, having a plan of action that will ultimately protect victims and even the rights of the suspects who haven't been convicted of crimes.

"We continue to hear about rape and sexual assault on campus too frequently…we want to make sure that the rights of both parties are protected," she said.

Federal law says universities must also look into these types of complaints even if police are conducting separate investigations. The ACLU says they want to make sure schools are complying. The group will work with the Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance to review the universities' responses. If any are found to be out of line, Gastanaga says the groups could file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

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