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Virginia Creates Sexual Assault Task Force

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has ordered the formation of a brand new task force in the state focused on the issue of college sexual assault.

The task force, announced in a declaration by McAuliffe on Thursday and since endorsed by the heads of almost every top university in the state, is one of the most ambitious state-level measures regarding the issue of campus sexual assaults in recent years. Campus assault has received a great deal of attention in recent years, with activists claiming that as many as one in five women are sexually assaulted while at college.

The task force’s creation coincides with a greatly increased focus by the Obama administration on the issue. President Barack Obama’s Justice Department has started to put greater pressure on colleges to address sexual assault, with some 76 investigations ongoing against colleges for potential violations of Title IX and the Clery Act, federal laws that obligate universities to address campus crime and avoid sex discrimination. Four of those schools are in Virginia, including the state flagship University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Congress, a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri are attempting to pass legislation that would create new requirements for colleges and universities to combat assault while also imposing new penalties for schools that fail to comply.

The task force, chaired by Attorney General Mark Herring and including several university officials, law enforcement officers and anti-rape activists, will create a report of suggested policy changes that will be delivered to the governor no later than June 1 of 2015.

Topics for the task force will include improving campus cooperation with law enforcement, training for students and staff, and the procedures used to resolve sexual assault complaints.

McAuliffe’s effort earned praise from Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who tied it to ongoing efforts to pass anti-sexual assault legislation in Congress.

“This issue is incredibly important to me as a father as well as a Senator, and I fully expect the task force’s recommendations will help us improve our efforts in the Senate to combat campus sexual assault,” Warner said in a statement.

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