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The stately lawn at the University of Virginia, whose genteel reputation has been tarnished. (Photo: Adam Fagen/flickr/cc)

Protests and Outrage Force Campus Rape Into Spotlight

'Enough passivity. Enough stigma. Enough silence.'

Lauren McCauley

Update: On April 5, 2015, Rolling Stone officially retracted their story 'A Rape on Campus,' after an investigation by the Columbia Journalism Review found gross inconsistencies and failures in the reporting of the story.

The national problem of campus sexual assault has in recent days been jolted into the spotlight as the Charlottesville campus of the University of Virginia grapples with demonstrations and outrage after being exposed for its pervasive rape culture.

The protests are spurred by a Rolling Stone investigation, published last week, which revealed the patriarchal university culture that has perpetuated a "cycle of sexual violence and institutional indifference," illustrated through the particular example of a 2012 brutal gang rape of an 18-year-old female student by seven members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

The article states: "At UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students—who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture—and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal."

All Greek activity was temporarily suspended on campus following the publication of the article, and ThinkProgress notes that the incident has "reinvigorated calls to ban Greek life altogether."

On Tuesday, students demonstrating outside of a university board meeting on the issue chanted: "What do we want? An end to rape! When do we want it? Now!"

University of Virginia administrators apologized Tuesday to student victims of sexual assault and said they would toughen the school’s stance against such violence while "maximizing opportunities" for criminal prosecution. The Board of Visitors, which approved a resolution calling for a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault, met publicly with student leaders to address the recent outcry.

"I’d like to say to [the victim] and her parents I am sorry, and to all survivors of sexual assault, I am sorry," George Martin, the board’s rector, told a packed meeting room. "As we said last week, this type of conduct will not be tolerated at the University of Virginia. The status quo is not acceptable. Like all of you gathered here today, I am appalled."

Ashley Brown, the president of a sexual assault education group called One Less, said at a press conference Monday:  "Enough passivity. Enough stigma. Enough silence." Brown said the accounts included in the Rolling Stone article "are part of a national epidemic for which U.Va. is an example." She added that with increased attention focused on the Virginia school, the university community now has an opportunity to "rise up and and say enough."

In the wake of the damning article, demonstrations by students, faculty, and other supporters have brought public attention to a problem which for years, they say, the administration has systematically swept under the rug.

On Friday, concerned faculty hosted a "Take Back the Party" demonstration and university students held a "Slut Walk" on campus to protest the epidemic of victim-blaming and sexual assault at the school.

"We’re here because we think there’s an ongoing problem with social life at U.Va.," English professor Susan Fraiman, one of the main organizers of the rally, told the Cavalier Daily. "It is centered on fraternities and as a result, men control who enters parties and women are not on their own turf."

An unnamed first-year student also told the Cavalier Daily that she was concerned members of the student body were worried about the article tarnishing the University’s reputation. "It irritates me that the student body seems to think it’s an attack on the school," she said. "They should be more worried about the school not doing anything rather than worrying about the reputation of the school being tarnished by things that they haven’t done. They need to fix that."

State legislators are also weighing in, with David J. Toscano, the House Democratic leader whose district includes Charlottesville, calling (pdf) for legislative hearings on the way universities handle sexual assault reports soon after the assembly convenes on January 14.

In September, President Barack Obama launched "It's On Us," a national initiative aimed at combating sexual assault on college campuses.

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