“I can’t remember when I’ve been angrier as an adult” reading the Rolling Stone magazine account of systemic sexual assault and official cover up at the University of Virginia, Virginia State Sen. Richard Saslaw said at a City Council meeting in Falls Church Monday night.
He had extremely critical words for the University leadership and its long standing culture of sexual abuse, and said he is currently drafting a bill that will make it a felony for any university or higher education state employee who has been informed of a sexual assault and fails to report it to local police within 24 hours. “That person will be subject to a year in jail and a large fine,” Saslaw said.
Saslaw was visibly angry speaking to the Falls Church City Council about the matter Monday, accusing the university of “a total dedication to sweeping everything under the rug” about reports of gang rapes on the campus of U.Va.
Saslaw, the ranking Democrat in the state senate who’s served for 35 years, said that reading twice the magazine account, which has unleashed an uproar and led to the shutting down of all fraternities at the university until at least January by university president Teresa A. Sullivan, angered but “didn’t surprise me.”
“This has been going on forever,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you I have been hearing this crap, and that’s what it is, from the university for 40 years: ‘Let us handle it, we know how to do it. Don’t require us to report this.’”
Saslaw said his daughter went to U.Va. and “she told me that the university has a total dedication to sweeping everything under the rug.”
“I’ve got a bill that’s currently being drafted,” he said. “It will say that any university or higher education state employee who is informed of a sexual assault who does not report it to local police within 24 hours can face up to a year in jail and a big fine.
“This has got to stop. Those people at U.Va. have no business adjudicating a felony, for God’s sake. Had that same kid (reported in the Rolling Stone article who was guilty of two rapes on campus, suspended but then allowed back on campus after a year—ed.) done the same thing off campus, he’d be doing 40 years in prison, and not walking across a stage getting a diploma,” Saslaw said. He went on, “What parent in their right mind would send a daughter there who, and get this, would face a 20 percent chance of being sexually assaulted? That’s how bad it is. Well, things are going to change.”
He said that what conveys to male students, “particularly those on fraternity row,” is that “it always have been and still is open season on females.”
Those students, he said, “don’t have any fear of being turned over to police. That’s going to stop.”
As to the claim that such a law would cause victims not to come forward, he said, “They’re not now. They don’t come forward because they know the university is going to try to talk them out of it. They’re telling these kids, ‘Your parents worked hard to get you here, you want to blow all this up?’ This is absurd.”
“We’re going to do something and we’re not going to wait for commissions or study groups or anything like that. We’re going to do something,” he concluded, and the audience at the meeting broke into a spontaneous applause.
He said his bill is currently being drafted for introduction into the new legislative session that convenes in January.
Saslaw was at the City Council meeting along with State Del. Marcus Simon to hear from the Council about the City’s legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session in Richmond in January.
He said he would try to do something to get funding for the City’s “select” Department of Motor Vehicles office that was shut down last month for lack of funds.
Meanwhile, yesterday morning the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced the formation of an independent counsel to look into the problem. In conjunction with that, Herring issued the following statement:
“The University of Virginia community and all Virginians have been stunned by the horrific story Rolling Stone brought to light, as well as the apparent inadequacy of the University’s response to this and other past reports of sexual violence. Charlottesville Police have been asked to handle any criminal investigations into this specific attack, but all other aspects of campus sexual violence, including how school officials handled this case, will be thoroughly and independently scrutinized. I have made it clear this will be an aggressive and consequential investigation and review. The safety of our students is too important to accept anything less than a full accounting of what happened and bold ideas to ensure that no student suffers the unimaginable trauma of sexual violence or the injustice of an inadequate institutional response.”