Students who report sexual assaults will continue to have no guaranteed immunity from drug or alcohol violations at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), reports the Washington Post.
Currently, VMI is the state’s only college to be exempt from a rule requiring colleges to protect sexual assault reporters from being punished for any drug and alcohol use at the time of the incident.
A bill introduced by Del. Dan Helmer proposed to remove VMI’s exemption to that rule, but it died on Jan. 31 in the Virginia House of Delegates, where a majority of the higher education subcommittee voted against it. Voting fell along party lines, with Republicans opposing the bill, reports The Post.
Helmer expressed disappointment on the House floor, saying the bill could have helped VMI cadets feel more comfortable reporting that they’d been sexually assaulted. He pointed to a state-ordered investigation, conducted by the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, which found that about 14% of the 81 female cadets surveyed reported that they had been sexually assaulted at VMI.
“Those women and men who are victims of sexual violence will know they are guaranteed by law the right to come forward and report and … it will take us out of the position of VMI being this outlier,” Helmer said, according to the Post. “It’s a stain, right? Like, we want VMI to be a leader. It’s a stain that it’s the only college in Virginia in which you aren’t protected if you come forward and report sexual assault by the law.”
VMI, however, said that it already had an internal “immunity provision” that gives its superintendent the discretion on whether to protect students who disclose they’ve consumed drugs or alcohol while reporting sexual assaults. Plus, according to a VMI spokesman, no cadet in recent memory had been penalized for any alcohol or drug use that came to light during the reporting of a case.
“These cases are extremely complex, and so it has been the historic position of the institute that the discretion to make decisions on disciplinary immunity should lie at the institute level, should lie with the institution, with the superintendent to make decisions based on the facts of each particular case,” said VMI’s government relations director Kimberly Parker, according to the Post.