VCU Police credit ‘awareness’ for increase in rapes reported on campus

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — New crime reports reveal the number of rapes reported on Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus has tripled since 2014.

Police officials said it’s because students feel safe enough to report the attacks.

Many survivors of rape and sexual assault come to the Campus Wellness Resource Center also known as ‘The Well.’

Staffing at The Well has significantly increased in the past five years; from one advocate to three advocates and two interns.

All in an effort to help survivors get the help they need.

“There’s starting to be a cultural shift at VCU where no longer should a survivor feel like they are to blame,” said Fatima M. Smith, Assistant Director at The Well. “The only person that can stop a sexual assault is a rapist.”

In 2014, VCU reported five rapes on their Monroe Park campus. In 2016, 15 rapes were reported.

“I think the increase represents more awareness based on students,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti. “I think it also represents trust and confidence in the processes here at VCU.”

Across the board, Chief Venuti said VCU has made big changes to how they handle sexual assault cases and said that is why they are seeing an increase in the number of cases reported.

The VCU Police Department uses a survivor-centered approach called the You Have Options program.

Through this program, the police department and support services walk survivors through every step of the reporting process.

“We as a police department can’t tell a survivor what it is that they want,” Chief Venuti said. “Only a survivor can tell what that information is.”

Chief Venuti said it’s also support services, such as The Well, are to credit for the program’s success.

“We are seeing students realize that, if these things happened to me, I am going to come forward and be believed by my university,” Smith said. “That’s really what we hope The Well will do, is to provide an environment that is supportive and affirming of the experience that they had.”

The Well offers both educational programs, support groups and one-on-one counseling.

“We recognize that it’s difficult to process your trauma and also get support after the trauma,” Smith said.

Police and advocates at The Well encourage students if they believe they have been victims of rape or sexual assault, they should report the incident to them or someone on campus.

To report a sexual assault to the VCU Police department you can visit their website or call (804) 828-1234.

An advocate is available at The Well during normal business hours (Mon-Thurs 8am – 4:30pm & Fri 10:30am – 4:30pm).  You can also call (804) 828-9355 or email MyOptions@vcu.edu.

Survivors can also report incidents to the Title IX coordinator, Laura Walsh Rugless, by phone (804) 828-6404 or by email at  titleix@vcu.edu or complete the Sexual Misconduct/Violence and Sex/Gender Discrimination Incident Reporting Form online.

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