This story is part of our ongoing coverage in the wake of the Rolling Stone story on rape at UVA. There’s more: An in-depth look at the University’s sexual assault policy, a Q&A with Board of Visitors member Helen Dragas on her reaction to the story, responses from the Rolling Stone reporter and women she interviewed as well as two women who reported their own rapes while students, and information on victims coming forward from a Charlottesville prosecutor.
Lisa Richey was a recent UVA graduate in 2004 when a story titled “How UVA Turns its Back on Rape” came out. Richey, who was 23 at the time, said she was glad the topic had been written about and believed administrators when they promised to address the problem in the wake of that outrage. Fast forward 10 years, and like many UVA alums, Richey was sickened by the Rolling Stone story. This time, however, Richey didn’t trust that change would happen on its own. Within hours of the article’s publication, she had taken action, launching a Facebook page and an online fundraiser to provide independent legal counsel to victims of sexual assault at UVA.
“I can’t stop rape. I don’ t know how to change rape culture. I don’t really know how to make the policy changes make that much of an impact,” she said. “But I can probably find an attorney somebody can call when they get home and just talk through this with.”
On the Wednesday morning the article published, Richey had typical tasks on her to-do list: Change some software on the home computer, go grocery shopping, get ready for Thanksgiving guests. “It was not ‘Start a small social movement,’” she said.
That’s what she’s done, however, and in the days that followed, she has raised more than $22,000, including the largest donation of $5,000 from Board of Visitors member Helen Dragas, who cited her role as a female board member and alumna whose own daughter is a current student at the school as the basis for her concern and outrage.
Richey said the idea for the legal fund came from her belief that University administrators are not the best—or even appropriate—people to advise students who have been the victims of sexual assault.
“You become a dean because you’re this amazing academic and you get into the administrative side of it, and you want to help students negotiate academia,” said Richey, who believes an attorney who is not affiliated with the school and whose career is navigating the legal system will be better able to guide traumatized students.
Respecting a victim’s wishes is important, said Richey, but “you also have to arm somebody with the facts.”
Richey said 100 percent of the money raised will go to the legal fund, and she’s in the process of organizing the details. She hopes to raise at least $50,000.
“If this is really going to work, it needs to be something that’s set up that’s going to be around at minimum for five years,” she said. “That’s how long you need a proof of concept for something like this. It wouldn’t be real until next year’s first years arrive and that person is there through their full four-year experience.”
Ultimately, Richey believes alumni must put pressure on the administration to deal with the problem of sexual assault at UVA.
“It’s our University that failed the students” said Richey. “We can’t unrape anybody. We can’t fix the culture necessarily. We’re not there. But we can set something up to right the wrong that the administration did. It’s our donations that pay those paychecks.”