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UVA Violated Title IX, Had 'Mixed Record' On Sexual Assault Cases, Federal Investigation Finds

The investigation comes 10 months after the bombshell Rolling Stone report about the school.

The University of Virginia had a "mixed record" handling reports of sexual assault and violated the gender equity law Title IX in certain cases, a federal report found.

UVA was in violation of Title IX from the 2008-09 school year to the 2011-12 year, and in "three specific concerns identified after the 2011-12 academic year," according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. 

Reports of sexual assault and gang rape were not properly investigated by UVA, OCR said, and the school failed to consider whether two reports of sexual assault involving fraternities in 2013 and 2014 were a threat to the community at large.

The university will now need to implement several reforms already underway as part of a resolution agreement it signed with department. In its report, OCR faulted UVA because it "did not provide fair process either to complainants or to students accused of sexual violence" in its prior policy for these cases. The Education Department said these faults have now been corrected in the university's current policy.

UVA will need to make clear with student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, that the school may sever all ties with a group if there are Title IX violations.

The long-awaited results of the federal investigation landed 10 months after a Rolling Stone article that portrayed the school as turning a blind eye toward a culture that tolerates sexual assault. However, the central storyline of the article, about a woman named Jackie who claimed to have been gang-raped at a fraternity, was debunked by several media outlets and the reporting and editing deemed a "failure" by the Columbia School of Journalism. 

Yet, prior to the Rolling Stone story, UVA had already been under a sweeping investigation by the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights since June 30, 2011. Unlike most of the federal probes into how colleges handle sexual assaults, UVA's was a "compliance review," which is considered more significant and looks into virtually every aspect and every case of sexual violence. 

OCR suggested the investigation could have continued for longer, because UVA requested a resolution before the federal office had time to fully review files from 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Of 50 reports of sexual violence where students did not file a formal complaint from 2008-09 through 2011-12, the university failed to take appropriate action in 22, OCR said. Twenty-one of those reports "alleged sexual assault, some including rape and gang rape," the agency added. Investigators had further concerns in 29 of 87 informal reports from the fall semester of 2012 through December 2014.

UVA often took interim steps to support a survivor, the Education Department said, but did not go far enough to ensure no one else on campus experienced continued harassment related to the incidents reported to the school.

Colleges are obligated under Title IX to address sexual violence reported on campus, regardless of whether victims also report it to law enforcement.  

The federal investigation pointed to a number of concerns involving the adjudication process, such as the school putting too much emphasis on accused students and complainants to identify evidence and witnesses, rather than the university process performing those functions.

Investigators also narrowed in on the statements made by Nicole Eramo, an associate dean of students who served as head of the UVA Sexual Misconduct Board, that students who admitted to sexual assault were not severely punished because the school was still not sure what happened. Eramo suggested that the university refrained from expelling students found by the school to have committed sexual violence because the school was just 51 percent certain of their guilt.

"Students expressed a belief that the University has failed to impose what they see as 'serious disciplinary actions,' i.e., suspension or expulsion, and that this indicates to them that the University does not take complaints of sexual misconduct seriously," the investigation said. "Students explained to OCR that this perception makes students less likely to use the University's grievance process." 

Records obtained by The Huffington Post through a Freedom of Information Act Request earlier this year show how many cases OCR was reviewing. UVA received 129 reports of sexual assault from the 2009-2010 school year through February 2015; in 59 of those cases, the survivor was just seeking resources like counseling and academic accommodations, while 53 filed complaints. Of those, 28 complaints went to police, 13 to the sexual misconduct board and police and 11 went solely to the sexual misconduct board.

Of the 24 cases that went to the sexual misconduct board, six resulted in a guilty finding and sanction, but UVA has declined to elaborate on what sort of punishments were levied. None of the students found guilty of sexual assault were expelled, the university has conceded. Meanwhile, dozens of students have been kicked out for academic violations, critics have noted.

The records were originally created for state Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville), who had proposed legislation targeting campus sexual assault this year.

Students and alumni have complained for years that UVA did not properly handle sexual violence on campus. The UVA investigation started from a complaint filed in 2011, but was folded into a larger and more serious compliance review. 

The resolution of the lengthy investigation was released Monday as 27 universities, including UVA, publicized the results of a campus climate survey about sexual violence conducted by the Association of American Universities. 

At UVA, 58.8 percent of students said in the survey they think it is "very or extremely likely" a report of sexual assault would be taken seriously. However, students were twice as likely as the national AAU average to think sexual assault was a problem at their school, and only 28 percent believed the school would take action against an offender. 

Among female undergraduates at UVA, 11.4 percent have experienced sexual assault involving penetration by force or incapacitation since starting college, the AAU survey found. 

OCR credited UVA for having a new policy that does address many of their concerns, though the school will still need to submit documentation in the coming year to prove it is in compliance with federal standards. 

"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," UVA President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement. "We have already implemented many of the measures identified in the agreement."  

UVA Student Council said in a statement it will revise agreements with all "Contracted Independent Organizations" on campus by Dec. 15

The university needs to now focus on continuing to make improvements with sexual assault cases, because UVA always has been a "forward-facing institution," said Student Council President Abraham Axler.

"Sexual assault is not something you can simply get beyond," he told HuffPost. "What we're talking about is the need for every individual to understand they have a role in preventing sexual misconduct."

At least seven sexual harassment complaints were filed against one employee between 2005 and 2012, but the university failed to properly investigate the situation, according to the investigation.

The finding in UVA's case follows a stream of schools that OCR declared to be out of line with federal law on sexual assault cases. The agency similarly ruled in the past year that Harvard Law SchoolPrinceton University and Southern Methodist University violated Title IX, among others

As of Sept. 2, 133 colleges and universities were under investigation by OCR. 

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Tyler Kingkade covers higher education and sexual violence, and is based in New York. You can contact him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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