Hundreds of students chanted “Title IX excuses crime” throughout Virginia Tech’s campus during the Walkout for Survivors Against Sexual Assault on April 30, where protestors asked for reform on sexual assault proceedings and new Title IX at Virginia Tech.
Testimonies of sexual assault survivors — some of which were spoken about for the first time at the walkout — revealed students’ personal interaction with the Title IX office, Cook Counseling Center and other nearby resources. Students voiced concern over university tools and policies like Schiffert Health Center not being able to conduct a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) exams.
Rachel Bailey, a sophomore majoring in international business and applied economics and management, and a student advocate against sexual violence, noted that the walkout intended to raise students’ voices as a whole to further change the Title IX process at the rally.
On April 23, Bailey tweeted, “Shoutout to Virginia Tech for finding my rapist not guilty and for putting me on deferred suspension for Self Defense. I’ve never been more disappointed to be a Hokie,” creating a viral message that gained the attention of Juan Pacheco, a junior majoring in psychology, and one of the co-organizers of the walkout.
Pacheco acknowledged there was a “culmination of things” for the walkout taking place with Bailey’s tweet being the catalyst of the movement.
According to the Virginia Tech Office for Equity and Accessibility, there were 214 reports of gender-based violence and sexual harassment involving students in the 2017-2018 academic year. Of the 214 reports filed, 83 incidents occurred on campus and 51 occurred specifically in residence halls. Gender-based harassments consisted of 70 reports while 88 reports were sexual assault.
Predominant challenges victims face in finding their alleged assailant guilty is little or insufficient physical evidence during the trials. Additionally, many cases do not proceed following questioning based on the discretion of the Title IX Advisory Group arranged by the Title IX coordinator. These cases are referred to as inquiry-only resolutions which consist of the 23% of reports received in 2017-2018. Long durations of time and demanding hours required for dealing with cases of sexual violence drain alleged victims. Many of them take months before a resolution is reached.
“We can’t be desensitized to this because the more we become desensitized the more the epidemic is going to spread silently,” Pacheco said.
A paper trail marked the walkout’s path exposing campus-wide emails of reported sexual assault. Students began the march from War Memorial Chapel and concluded at North End Center where the Office for Equity and Accessibility, which houses the Title IX programs, is located.
A list of demands were directed toward the Title IX office on behalf of Pacheco and his co-organizer Sabrina Ahmad, a sophomore majoring in psychology and neuroscience. These demands included eliminating all punishment, drinking education courses and reflective essays for individuals reporting a sexual assault; providing Title IX faculty and staff with better training; conducting an independent investigative review of Title IX and Student Conduct; publishing said independent investigative reviews; holding a sexual assault education information session for all incoming freshman at summer orientation; and denying of delay of case hearings for later times.
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands made a statement that read, “while we are making progress in some areas, we continue to be concerned that only a small fraction of sexual assault cases are reported, and the maze of regulations and legal restrictions is becoming more complicated and difficult for survivors to navigate.”