An open letter to UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan

01.06.2016

Dear President Sullivan,

We recently learned about deeply disturbing actions by one of your Deans against a sexual assault survivor and member of the UVA community. We are writing to request that you put a stop to what we regard as a re-victimization of this young woman.

A lawsuit has been filed naming as plaintiff Dean Nicole Eramo, an associate dean of students at the University of Virginia, and former chair of the Sexual Misconduct Board. The suit names as defendant the Rolling Stone Magazine and seeks damages for defamation relating to the November 2014 article about sexual assault at UVA. We have followed this case and reviewed the plaintiff’s filings. In our view, the filings display a very troubling pattern of abuse towards “Jackie”, a woman profiled in that article, which cannot be allowed to continue.

“Jackie” is not a party to the lawsuit and, as far as we know, has no wish to become embroiled in a struggle between UVA officials and members of the press. Notwithstanding, Dean Eramo has demanded that “Jackie” produce years of her most private, personal communications with her family, friends, even counselors. She also sought all communications between “Jackie” and One Less, a UVA campus survivor support group. This has not only threatened “Jackie’s” dignity and privacy, but also the dignity and privacy of numerous other student survivors on your campus.

Even more troubling, Dean Eramo’s court filings wrongly argue that “Jackie” cannot seek the legal protections afforded to alleged victims of sexual assault. She goes on to engage in numerous offensive attacks against “Jackie”, including repeatedly attacking her because she did not report her assault to the police or wish to cooperate with their investigation. Keep in mind that these actions are being taken by a University dean who specifically counseled “Jackie.”

Your dean’s demands recite nearly every false argument made to undermine victims of sexual assault. It is exactly this kind of victim blaming and shaming that fosters rape culture, re-victimizes those brave enough to have come forward, and silences countless other victims. It is deeply disturbing to see what UVA students are now witnessing: A senior University official, whose job was to counsel and support rape survivors, publicly attacking one such survivor in court filings. We do not see how students who experience sexual assault at UVA will be able to trust University officials tasked with protecting them if this conduct is allowed to continue.

As you are well aware, just this past September, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights found that the University of Virginia had mishandled informal reports of sexual assault over a number of years. More specifically, the OCR concluded that it was inappropriate for Dean Eramo to act as the chair of the Sexual Misconduct Board while also serving as an associate dean counseling students. The report also concluded that comments made by Dean Eramo herself during a campus radio interview violated Title IX by contributing to a hostile environment for victims.

We understand that UVA has made real efforts to change its policies and procedures, and more broadly its campus culture, in order to address the need to better protect victims in your community. This is a step forward and we are encouraged by these efforts. But Dean Eramo’s court filings against “Jackie” represent a massive step backward. Surely, if rape survivors at UVA see that they cannot report their trauma or seek help without risking this kind of attack by University officials, your efforts to provide equitable educational opportunities to women is rendered meaningless.

The National Organization for Women considers these court filings by a UVA official attacking “Jackie” as occurring with the approval and participation of the University. We believe that women on UVA’s campus, prospective students and their parents, and alumni will likely reach the same conclusion. We respectfully ask you to take the necessary steps to put a stop to these actions, make clear that the University does not support them, and to continue to foster a more positive environment where all students can feel safe and protected. We look forward to your response and are available to discuss this important matter with you at your convenience.

Respectfully,
Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women
Diana Egozcue, President, Virginia NOW
Tannis Fuller, Charlottesville NOW

Contact

Tamara Stein , planner@now.org , (951) 547-1241
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