Virginia Governor Orders 'Top-To-Bottom' Review Of College Sexual Assault Policies

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gestures during an interview in his office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Friday, Jan. 17, 20
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gestures during an interview in his office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. McAuliffe, appointed former republican operative Boyd Marcus to the Virginia ABC Board. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is ordering a "top-to-bottom review" of policies on sexual violence at the state's college campuses.

On Thursday, McAuliffe signed a declaration creating a task force, chaired by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, to look into the procedures for investigating sexual assaults and resolving complaints at public colleges and universities. A report is due to the governor no later than June 1, 2015.

For years, multiple Virginia colleges have faced criticism that they are failing in their responses to sexual violence on campus. Four state universities are currently under federal investigation, including the flagship University of Virginia, whose federal probe began in 2011.

The heads of UVA, James Madison University, College of William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Military Institute all signed the task force declaration; each of those schools is or recently was under federal investigation. The leaders of Virginia State University, Richard Bland College, Radford University, Longwood University, George Mason University, Christopher Newport University and the state's community college system also had endorsed it as of Thursday morning.

The task force is the first real sign of action by Virginia state lawmakers since a commission in 2011 found that multiple local campuses were not following federal laws and regulations on how to handle sexual assault cases. McAuliffe became governor this year.

Recent reports of James Madison punishing students guilty of sexual assault with "expulsion after graduation" and of VMI forcing pregnant cadets to leave the college reignited the focus on the state's schools this year.

"The executive order and joint declaration the Governor is signing today are indications that the Governor is committed to aggressively combating sexual violence on college campuses and will work with the Attorney General and Virginia's colleges and universities to find the best ways to prevent, respond to, and raise awareness about this issue," McAuliffe spokeswoman Rachel Thomas told The Huffington Post in a statement. "The Governor and First Lady take this issue very seriously -- as the parents of five children, two of whom are currently in college, they believe that it is critical to Virginia's students' success to create safe environments at our institutions of higher education and will not tolerate sexual violence on campus."

The declaration that the university presidents signed calls for schools to "vigorously enforce policies and procedures governing sexual violence" and stated that the task force will develop a model memorandum of understanding for how institutions should interact with campus police, local law enforcement, state attorneys, crisis response centers and victim advocacy organizations.