The Virginia state General Assembly has passed a bill requiring the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) to give cadets immunity from punishments for drinking or drug use when reporting a sexual assault, The Washington Post reported. The bill will now go to the desk of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R).
VMI has been the only Virginia college exempt from a state law giving students this kind of immunity, and VMI officials had opposed removing the exemption until recently. As recently as last year, Kimberly Parker, VMI government relations director, argued that VMI should keep the exemption because “inherent risk” in the college’s military training environment and case complexity meant punishment discretion should be up to VMI itself.
The military college also argued that no student in recent memory had been reprimanded for such violations while reporting a sexual assault.
As it stands now, VMI has a policy offering immunity to students who commit minor infractions involving alcohol -- but not drug use – in connection with sexual assault, discrimination, harassment, or retaliation complaints.
This legislation would also extend immunity to students at Virginia colleges who admitted to breaking school curfew while reporting sexual assaults. And if the law passes, VMI Superintendent Cedric T. Wins will be able to require drug or alcohol counseling for cadets posing a threat to themself or others.
The school’s exemption has likely discouraged female cadets from reporting, said state Del. Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax), the bill’s sponsor.
A 2021 state-ordered independent investigation into VMI found that institutional racism and sexism were tolerated and unaddressed and sexual assault was prevalent on campus, with approximately 14% of female cadets surveyed saying they had been sexually assaulted at VMI and 63% saying another student told them about their sexual assault or harassment.
Wins told Helmer in Fall 2022 he wanted to compromise, Helmer said.
“[Wins] is committed to helping survivors. It’s been a sea change in how the school is thinking about sexual assault,” Helmer said. “He takes seriously drug violations, so he wants the flexibility to maintain cadet safety and require counseling in extreme cases. But he also recognizes that we should give survivors the safety net to report assaults so that we ensure perpetrators of sex assault never serve in the military.”