UR creates Center for Sexual Assault Prevention after student outcry over rapes

UR creates Center for Sexual Assault Prevention after student outcry over rapes

The University of Richmond announced Friday it would create a Center for Sexual Assault Prevention after students complained about the administration's handling of recent rape cases.

The new center will include a full-time, permanent position focused on education and prevention. A search is underway to fill the role, as well as efforts to add a survivor advocate, and a dedicated counselor to support survivors of sexual violence, President Ronald Crutcher said in a letter to the campus.

More than 2,700 people signed a petition calling for the center after claims the university wasn't doing enough for sexual assault survivors.

In Friday's letter, the university announced it is also conducting a search for a new Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Students, which will be independent of the Coordinate Colleges, instead of being served by members of the deans' office staffs, as is currently the practice.

Sexual misconduct investigations will also now be conducted independently of the Coordinate Colleges by a conduct officer and a hearing officer. The hearings will be held outside the colleges, with the victims being allowed to participate by videoconference if they choose.

President Crutcher also announced a new President's Advisory Committee for Sexual Violence Prevention and Response made up of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and Trustees. The committee will review the University's training, prevention, and response efforts, as well as policies and procedures.

The committee will be charged with reviewing suggestions coming out of and external review of the university's policies and procedures and those from members of the university community.

"A number of you identified aspects of campus culture to be explored, and the Advisory Committee will consider those suggestions as well as the experiences of other campuses that have had success in changing campus culture in important areas such as alcohol consumption," wrote Crutcher. "Recommendations from the Advisory Committee will help guide our ongoing work in this area."

Crutcher also announced changes in training for faculty, staff, and students, as well as more resources for victims to get help such as the 24/7 hotline and a way to reach on-call deans' office staff at night and on weekends.

"As we continue to improve and enhance our prevention and response efforts, I want to thank all members of our community who are engaged daily in our important work in this area and in support of our students," wrote Crutcher. "It has been heartening to see, in recent weeks, such strong evidence of our shared dedication across the University to the growth and flourishing of all of our students. I look forward to our continued work together to ensure that the campus climate reflects our collective values and that we achieve our shared aspirations for the University of Richmond."

The changes come after a University of Richmond student came wrote a column for the Huffington Post last month claiming an athlete raped her and the school didn't do anything about it.

In her article -- "There's a Brock Turner in all o(UR) lives" -- CC Carreras says she was called into an administrator's office and told her sexual assault case would not move forward. She says the male administrator then told her "I thought it was reasonable for him to penetrate you for a few more minutes if he was going to finish." Carreras says she did not consent to sex with the athlete.

In her article, Carreras compares her situation to the Brock Turner case in California, saying athletes aren't held accountable for sexual assaults. After the university responded claiming there were inaccuracies in her story, she posted a second article on Huffington Post providing "receipts" of emails and letters from staff -- including Dean Daniel Fabian, Associate Dean Patrick Benner and Title IX Coordinator Maura Smith -- as well as her own transcript of a 10-hour hearing about the incident in August 2015.

A third Huffington Post article from a different U of R student was later published claiming the school protected her attacker. Whitney Ralston's wrote she thought her attacker was stalking her, but she says she was told he would stay on campus and if she "couldn't deal with, could look into transferring."

In an interview Friday, Ralston said she is encouraged by the latest developments, but more action can be taken.

"The concern for student's safety shouldn't have to outweigh their right to an education," Ralston said. "And I'd just like to see them not prioritize their safety over their education."

The string of allegations of mishandling of sexual assault cases has created tension on campus and brought criticism from alumni and professors. Eric Anthony Grollman, Ph.D., issued an essay on the website Conditionally Accepted criticizing UR for its handling of Carreras' case and also its response to her report.

The university was already one of five Virginia colleges under federal investigation for its handling of a sexual assault case on campus. A complaint against the university filed with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights details an October 5, 2013, incident when a University of Richmond student says while incapacitated she was raped twice by a fellow student in his residence hall.

Six days later the rape was reported to the University. On October 16, she formally met with one of the people on campus who is trained to handle sexual assault cases. A week later she says she's told after a "thorough investigation" they determined the "key findings warrant a complaint" and a hearing.

But according to a 5-page Clery Act complaint filed by the victim with the Department of Education, another dean stepped in, "without thoroughly reviewing evidence" and "unilaterally decided that no hearing would occur."

There are two laws that outline what a school must do once a student reports being sexually assaulted on campus, the Clery Act and Title IX. The Clery Act requires colleges to disclose crimes that are reported on the campus. Title IX says they must provide adequate accommodations to students of all genders.

According to the Clery Act complaint. the alleged victim also says the University failed to provide a "prompt, fair and impartial disciplinary proceeding" against her accused attacker and that the University didn't help her academically while she was dealing with the trauma.

A sexist email sent by two Kappa Alpha fraternity members to around 100 students on campus only worsened the climate on campus, leading the university to suspend the organization, according to the school's newspaper The Collegian.

"Tonight's the type of night that makes fathers afraid to send their daughters away to school," the email reads. "Let's get it."

UR suspended all chapter operations, activities, and events and launched an investigation.

The Kappa Alpha Order was the first national fraternity at the school and was founded in 1870, according to the university's website.

Copyright 2016 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.