RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of college students across Virginia have begun classes for the start of the fall semester. Thursday afternoon, at the south portico of the state capitol, Virginia policy makers announced plans to combat a major issue at campuses across the nation: sexual assault.
Six weeks into her freshman year at the University of Virginia, Emily Renda was sexually assaulted by one of her classmates after a party.
"It took me a while to own [what happened]. I felt very uncomfortable for about a year using the word rape," said Renda.
Renda spoke Thursday at the announcement of a new task force aimed at examining how Virginia colleges and universities handle sexual assault cases.
Four Virginia universities are currently under investigation for how they handled the reporting of sexual assaults on campus.
Every public university or college in Virginia has signed on to participate in the task force, which will focus on a "survivor-centered" approach.
"I think it's important to have respect for where someone is in their healing process when they come forward to report," said Renda.
"The prevention model of yesterday was how to avoid being a victim," said Tammi Slovinsky with the VCU Wellness Resource Center. "Now it's about how [students] can all look out for each other, and make sure that if we see something unsafe, we intervene.
In October, the Attorney General's Office plans on meeting with every major college or university in Virginia to discuss the expectations and procedures moving forward.
Renda said after her experience, she encourages all students and parents to discuss sexual violence on campus before heading off to school.
"Encouraging our sons and daughters to be mindful of each other, their surroundings, and what they should expect," she said.