The VCU Police Department is spearheading a new approach to reporting sexual assaults on college campuses by being the first to implement the “You Have Options” reporting program.
At a briefing for other campus police departments last Tuesday, VCU Police Chief John Venuti said the program — which his department implemented last month — will help increase reports of sexual assault and create potential links between cases of repeat offenders who have escaped prosecution thus far.
“This is a nontraditional program,” Venuti said. “I can’t tell you how many police people have called me up and said, ‘Are you out of your mind? What do you mean people can pick what they want to do?’’’
Only three municipal police departments across the country have adopted “You Have Options.” VCU is the first campus police department to do so.
With the new program students can choose between engaging in a complete investigation, filing an “information only” report or engaging in a partial investigation that includes gathering evidence but not necessarily pressing charges.
VCU Police Detective and program coordinator Chelsey McCarty explained the “trauma-informed approach” changes the interview process to take into account how memory can be affected by an attack.
“What’s unique with this is that a survivor does have the right at any given time,” McCarty said. “Until an arrest warrant has been issued or an indictment handed down (the survivor can) say that they no longer wish to engage in the process and they don’t want to move forward with a criminal prosecution.”
Venuti said the idea is to diminish the anxieties associated with reporting to law enforcement. Still, he said, the collection of physical evidence is “the one most important thing that can’t be done later.”
The VCU PD has received 19 reports of sexual assault in the first two months of the semester, compared to the 28 total cases last academic year. Venuti correlated the rise in reports to increased awareness of the problem, opposed to increased cases of sexual assault.
Attorney General Mark Herring said Governor McAuliffe’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence, which Venuti served on in March 2015, recommended VCU pilot the “You Have Options” program.
Additionally, VCU established a web portal expanding options for reporting. In an effort to better hone-in on repeat offenders, the department is also working on a database to compile information from the three reporting options with the intention of drawing links between cases.
“We are very far from having this problem figured out and solved,” Venuti said.
Sarah is a senior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, the Virginia Press Association awarded Sarah 3rd place for Public Safety Writing Portfolio and the Hearst Awards recognized her as the 4th place winner for Breaking News Writing. In April, Sarah was invited to the White House for the Administration’s innaugural College Reporter Day. She previously worked as an editorial intern for as Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C., as well as RVAmag and GayRVA.com
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