Sexual Violence

Recently, more students are expelled for sexual violence than for violating the Honor Code.

Sexual Violence

Authors: Harper North (Batten, 2020) & Ory Streeter (Medicine, 2019)

The Honor Committee supports the Community of Trust by upholding the University Honor Code- that students will not lie, cheat, or steal. In recent years, particularly in the wake of the 2014 Rolling Stone article, UVA students are combating sexual and gender-based harassment and other forms of interpersonal violence.[1] Many question why these actions are not considered Honor offenses and held to the standard of the Single Sanction.[2] Why, for example, is cheating on a quiz significant enough to warrant Honor charges, yet sexual assault is not, when sexual assault causes greater harms to both individuals and the community?

The answer to those questions begins with an understanding of federal legislation. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex by any recipient of Federal financial assistance,” such as the University of Virginia. [3] Discrimination on the basis of sex “includes sexual and gender-based harassment”. [4] In 2011, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to educational institutions stating that the “[sexual] harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX”. [5] UVA’s response to sexual violence is therefore regulated by the mandates of Title IX. “Title IX [requires UVA] to designate a Title IX coordinator and adopt and publish a grievance procedure. The University has done both of these in the Title IX Policy and Procedures, which are a result of community-based input, including input from students.” [3]

Additionally, Title IX policies must comply with the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2013 which requires that procedures:     

“...inform parties about preservation of evidence, options for seeking assistance from law enforcement and campus authorities, and rights regarding judicial no-contact, restraining and protective orders; the institutional official conducting the proceeding or hearing must be appropriately trained; and Institutional policies must identify sanctions and protective measures, afford the same opportunities to complainants and respondents in the process, and notify both parties in writing of the outcome.” [3]

With all these requirements, and the sensitive nature of Title IX cases, it is not feasible for an organization composed of full-time students to manage Title IX cases. The student group would face tremendous challenges, even at UVA, where students handle almost all other student conduct cases. Instead, a specially trained investigator investigates all reports and hearings are conducted “by a Review Panel [...] comprised of three trained faculty or staff members”. [3] No students serve on the Review Panel. “Title IX does not prohibit the inclusion of students in the procedure; however, many schools have elected not to include students in their process for a variety of reasons and [OCR] has approved this approach.” [3] The Review Panel can, and does, expel students. However, many students feel that sexual assault does not experience the same “zero tolerance” adjudication as lying, cheating, or stealing.  

The University’s Title IX statistics are published online. Combining the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years (the two years with available data), nine students were expelled and four students were suspended, for an average of 4.5 expelled students per year. [3][6] By comparison, the Honor System permanently dismissed an average of 3.7 students per year over the same period.*  Sanctioning statistics are, of course, influenced by the confidential details of each case and the fluctuating number of reports received. But as the number of annual Honor dismissals continues to decline (due to the Informed Retraction) [7], more students may continue to be dismissed for committing sexual assault than for violating the Honor code.

Sexual Assault is not adjudicated by the Honor Committee. That does not permit the Honor Committee to abdicate its responsibility to support the most aspirational values of the Community of Trust. In 2014, the Board of Visitors called UVA to “implement all measures to address [Title IX] violations and instill a culture of reporting with an understanding that our community is committed to the fundamental principles of zero tolerance for sexual assault and the right to due process”. [8] This commitment has been upheld by students and the administration alike. Honor, alongside organizations like UJC, Green Dot, Resident Staff, Student Council, and dozens of active CIOs, must continue to work together to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all students on Grounds. In order for us to truly trust each other, the entire UVA community must set high standards and embrace a spirit of honor that means far more than just a pledge not to lie, cheat or steal.

*[The average of 3.7 permanently dismissed students per year includes guilty verdicts at Honor hearings and students who left the University admitting guilt (LAG) - both of which operate the same as an expulsion.]


[1] (n.a.) (Spring, 2015). Sexual assault and UVA. Virginia Magazine [website]. Retrieved from:

[2] Pumphrey, M. (2004, October 18). Sexual assault penalties disputed. The Cavalier Daily. Retrieved from:

[3] Babb, E. (2019, February). [Emily Babb: UVA Assistant Vice President for Title IX Compliance/Title IX Coordinator]. Personal communication.

[4] Brown, C. (2017, April 09). Why Title IX Matters, Regardless of Politics. Psychology Today [website]. Retrieved from:

[5] Ali, R. (2011, April 04). Dear Colleague Letter. U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights. Retrieved from:

[6]  UVA Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights. (n.d.). News and Announcements [website]. Retrieved from:

[7] UVA Honor Committee. (2019). Bicentennial Report.

[8] UVA Board of Visitors. (2014, November 25). University of Virginia Board of Visitors Statement on Sexual Assault. Retrieved from: