The following editorial appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post:
University of Virginia officials are fond of talking about the principles of honor and character on which Thomas Jefferson's school was founded. Living by those principles is another matter, if we are to judge by the sorry way they handled the case of a young woman who alleges she was gang-raped during a fraternity party.
Only after a damning story roiled the Charlottesville campus, bringing unfavorable national attention, did officials act. Only now have they suspended, for a few weeks, activities of fraternities and sororities. Only now have they promised to investigate the incident - which took place in 2012.
Rolling Stone magazine recounted the harrowing allegations of an 18-year-old freshman who says she was raped by seven men during a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The particulars of the alleged assault churn the stomach, but no less disturbing is the indifference she reportedly encountered from friends who warned her not to seek help and from an administration clearly not anxious to open the school to scandal.
Decisions about whether to report sex crimes, whether on- or off-campus, are generally left to victims, and this young woman declined to report. But the circumstances raise questions about the kind of advice and support she received. Even more worrisome is that university officials had been told about other instances of sexual assault at this same fraternity but failed to investigate until the Rolling Stone reporter started asking questions.
Since the controversy erupted, President Teresa Sullivan and other U-Va. officials have released a series of statements stressing how seriously they take rape. Their message is undercut by other victims who maintain that the experience detailed by Rolling Stone is not unique on a campus where the fraternity system is king and heavy drinking is part of the culture. Not a single student has been expelled by the Sexual Misconduct Board in the past 10 years, even as dozens have been kicked out for honor-code violations such as cheating. A student-run media outlet at U-Va. released a video recording of the dean who handles sexual assault cases saying that even an admission of guilt is not likely to result in expulsion. In other words, there are no real consequences. That perpepuates sexual violence.
More than canceling a few parties and giving lip service to doing better are needed. School officials need to recognize rape by students against other students for what it is: a serious crime. If the Rolling Stone article is accurate, the seven male students should be not only expelled. They belong in prison.