UVa. Board member: ‘The culture is to keep secrets, to not face our problems’

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors unanimously voted Tuesday to accept a zero tolerance policy for sexual assaults, but what exactly that means, remains to be seen.

“The details of the approach and how it is articulated and implemented will be refined in the near term in collaboration with the University administration,” the university said in a press release.

For now, advocates for survivors of sexual assaults at UVA, and Charlottesville’s Police Chief, told the board they are just happy to finally be seated at the board’s table.

“This is the first time I`ve ever seen the Board of Visitors in person," Ashley Brown, the President of One Less, said. "This is the first time anyone has approached us and asked us as experts, as advocates, as the people entrenched so deeply and so passionately in this work, hey, what do you think? And, for that I am deeply disappointed both in the Board of Visitors and the administration,.”

“This is the first time I`ve been invited to speak before the Board of Visitors, and I’m honored to do so,” Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo said.

The board, student leaders, law enforcement, and school President Teresa Sullivan discussed what to do about an alleged rape culture at UVA which was exposed in a Rolling Stone article last week.

“The culture is to keep secrets, to not face our problems,” board member Helen Dragas said.

The conversation lasted three hours and emotions ranged from tears to laughter.

“Like so many of you, I have been heartbroken,” Dragas said before tearing up.

Board Member Dr. Edward Miller attended the meeting by phone, and expressed concern when he heard some board members laughing during the meeting.

“I just cannot believe the laughter that is going on in this room right now...this is a serious issue and I`m very upset about it,” Miller said.

But, other board members responded by saying they had been discussing a heavy subject for over two hours, and they could not be blamed for needing a moment to relax.

“There is no degree of levity here, and every member in this room is taking this very very seriously,” one board member said in response.

As the Board of Visitors explores changes on campus, Virginia’s Attorney General has named a team from an independent law firm to investigate the administration’s response to reported sexual assaults.

Va sex assault

CLICK HERE: Why charges are rarely filed when women are sexually assaulted in Virginia

In a recent investigation, CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit found that sexual assault cases are rarely prosecuted, especially when the assault happens on a college campus. As part of this investigation she reached out to local colleges for their sexual assault report numbers.

Virginia Commonwealth University provided the numbers that show how many sexual assaults were reported between 2000 and 2014, and how many perpetrators of sexual assault had been arrested in those same years.

When she asked UVa. for the same information, they refused  to supply the numbers and provided this response:

"No public body is required to create a new record if the record does not already exist. Va. Code § 2.2-3704(D). This portion of your request would require University staff to abstract data that is integrated in their departmental work files and then compile the data to create an aggregate number. In doing this, the University would be creating a report, not currently in existence, solely for the purpose of satisfying your FOIA request. Pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3704(D), this is not required, and the University chooses to exercise its discretion not to create such a report."