Lawmakers Refuse to Support Victims of Sexual Assault at the Virginia Military Institute

Last summer, after allegations surfaced about the prevalence of sexual assault on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia commissioned an independent report by the law firm Barnes and Thornburg. The report began by stating: “VMI has traditionally been run by white men, for white men. VMI’s overall unwillingness to change — or even question its practices and traditions in a meaningful way — has sustained systems that disadvantage minority and female cadets and faculty.”

The Virginia Military Institute was founded in 1839. The first women cadets enrolled in 1997. Today, women make up only 13 percent of the student body.

The investigative team reported that sexual assault is prevalent at VMI yet it is inadequately addressed by the Institute. Cadets reported that VMI administrators have intimidated female cadets to reconsider assault reports, including by asking them to consider the impact on the male assailants’ careers.

A Virginia statute makes it illegal for a university to punish a student for a drug or alcohol offense that comes to light during a report of sexual assault. The statute applies to every public institution in the Commonwealth, with one notable exception: VMI. The superintendent of VMI can choose to not punish a student who was a victim of sexual assault for alcohol, drug, or other violations. But students who report sexual assault are never sure if they will be subjected to sanctions or not. This obviously has a negative impact on a students’ willingness to report sexual assaults.

Recently, an attempt to remove the exception was defeated in the Virginia House of Delegates on a straight party-line vote. VMI opposed the measure.

An Institute spokesperson said that “the superintendent is committed to supporting and doing what is in the best interest of the victims of sexual assault and removing any barriers to minor infractions. That said, these cases are extremely complex, and so it has been the historic position of the institute that the discretion to make decisions on disciplinary immunity should lie at the institute level, should lie with the institution, with the superintendent to make decisions based on the facts of each particular case.”

Filed Under: Sexual Assault/Harassment


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