Three VCU affiliates selected for Gov. McAuliffe’s sexual violence taskforce

Janeal Downs
Staff Writer

Brandon Day, the Monroe Park campus SGA president, is one of three VCU affiliates selected for the governor’s 30-person state Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence. Day and ODU’s SGA president are the only students on the task force. Photo by Brooke Marsh.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed three members of the VCU community to his statewide initiative, the Governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence.

SGA president Brandon Day, VCU police chief and assistant vice president of public safety John Venuti and forensic nurse examiner Jean Cheek were selected from VCU to participate in the initiative.

According to the governor’s Sept. 22 press release, McAuliffe chose individuals familiar with the field of sexual assault to serve on the 30-person task force, which Attorney General Mark Herring will lead. The task force members include law enforcement, education, forensic nurses, advocates and Title IX coordinators.

Day, a senior public relations  major, and Christopher Ndirtitu, SGA President of Old Dominion University, were the only students selected to serve on the task force. Day said the VCU Dean of Student Affairs Reuban Rodriguez passed his name along and he was then selected to serve on the task force.

“It’s a really huge honor. I’m really excited,” Day said. “I think for me it’s a little intimidating just because I know it’s going to be a big challenge to tackle and I know this is a really serious issue.”

Day said he hopes he can fully represent the university and his peers while also contributing his ideas to the task force.

“I think a lot of times things such as this, there’s a lot of free discussion but that doesn’t always necessarily mean there’s some sort of productive or active step to take,” Day said. “And that’s sort of my goal to make sure we really have a serious plan that comes out of this.”

Venuti, who has served as VCU police chief since 2010, is one of the three members of law enforcement on the task force.

Venuti said people sometimes get confused on the difference between the Jeanne Clery Act and Title IX. He described the Clery Act as “what happened and where it happened” and Title IX violations as “what the relationship to the university is, and what happened, not so much where.”

“I think it’s going to give all of us in Virginia an opportunity to get together and identify the best practices in dealing with assault on college campuses,” Venuti said. “Obviously that’s a national topic and I think it’s great that the governor and the attorney general are jumping ahead of the curve and really looking at issues that pertain to Virginia colleges and universities.”

Venuti said VCU has taken a lot of measures to combat these types of crimes including delegating one officer, Tricia Mozingo, to solely deal with victims and survivors of sexual assaults and other crimes. Mozingo also helps students better understand the legal process.

Venuti said currently there is ongoing debate whether crime alerts pertaining to sexual assault should be sent out, and if they are required. He said the VCU police believe this is a way to actively try to prevent sexual assault.

“We don’t do it because we have to do it, we do it because we really believe in being open and transparent about crime issues and trends here at VCU and providing that level of education and resources to help students,” Venuti said.

He said the task force is a diverse group of people that includes advocates, victims and survivors, and the goal of the initiative is to find the best way to approach these crimes.

On VCU’s campus, the police have taken strides to educate the population on how to report crimes and recently implemented the utilization of the LiveSafe mobile app. Venuti said thus far, one person has reported sexual assault through the app.

“We respond aggressively to every complaint and allegation of sexual assault. That’s never going to change,” Venuti said. “I think the shift in paradigm, is changing our approach here at VCU to be more survivor-centric and I think that’s part of some of the conversation that has been going on nationally.”

In the 2013 academic year there were 11 sex offenses reported on the Monroe Park Campus and eight on the MCV campus. There were also 18 reports of dating violence on the Monroe Park Campus and 14 reports of domestic violence on the MCV campus according to the Annual Security Report, which was sent to students on Sept. 29.

Venuti said there has been an increase in student reports of sexual assault and domestic violence over the years. He said it is difficult to say whether this is indicative of more assaults taking place, or if students feel more comfortable reporting.

“I work with lots of different groups here at VCU, I work with SAVES (Sexual Assault and Violence Education by Students), I work with Men against Violence, I work with SGA,” Venuti said. “So I’m really hopeful that I am going to be the mouthpiece for VCU.”

Venuti said the police department has worked with Cheek and the forensic nurse examiner team multiple times on cases. Cheek said while some sexual assault examiners focus on people who were sexually assaulted, MCV forensic nurse examiners work with people over the age of 18 in relation to sexual crimes and other types of crimes like domestic violence, shootings and stabbings.

Cheek, a registered nurse and sexual assault examiner, said she is currently working on her master’s degree in education of nursing. She said she has done research on sexual assaults on campus and the resources available.

“I’m really interested in the medical, legal part so I just found that was a great place for me to grow as a nurse and grow my practice and really contribute to people in need,” Cheek said.

She said her top priority is to educate students and give them the tools to make better decisions and recognize bad situations and how to get out of situations so they do not become victims.

“I just think that is a really great and unique opportunity to bring together all aspects of legal and medical and advocacy to come together and hopefully create a program or make recommendations that will improve the lives of women on college campuses,” Cheek said.

She said one in five women will be a victim of sexual assault or an attempted assault. It is not uncommon for these experiences to negatively influence academic performance.

“It’s just an unfair disadvantage for women to have to fear being a victim and hopefully by improving life on college campuses we can actually improve the whole community because people will continue to get through school,” Cheek said.

McAuliffe’s traveling press secretary Rachel Thomas said the first meeting will be Oct. 9 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Patrick Henry Building located in Capitol Square. She said the meetings are open to the public. She said the task force will give the governor a final report with their recommendations no later than June 1, 2015.

“The goal of the task force is not to point fingers, but for all of the representatives to work together in a collaborative way to tackle this issue and create safe environments at Virginia colleges and universities where all students can learn, grow, and thrive,” Thomas wrote in an email.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply