Publicity prompts responses from other sexual assault victims

Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman said even years later, it can be valuable to report a sexual assault. Photo: Andrew Shurtleff. Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman said even years later, it can be valuable to report a sexual assault. Photo: Andrew Shurtleff.

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 a look at an alumna’s success raising money for a victims’ defense fund

The intense publicity and debate over the issue of sexual assault that has enveloped UVA can trigger various responses in rape survivors, said Becky Weybright, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA).

“It can retraumatize people,” said Weybright. “It may also give added validation to people who haven’t felt like their stories were believed or honored.”

Weybright said it’s too early to tell if SARA is experiencing an uptick in rape reports or calls from survivors seeking support, but for those victims who did not report their assaults at the time they occurred or soon after, Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman said it’s not too late—even years after the fact when there is no forensic evidence available. Notifying law enforcement is valuable, he said, since law enforcement agencies keep a database of such reports and check to see if an alleged assailant is accused of similar offenses.

“That’s a reservoir of information that could later be of significance,” said Chapman. “Even a report that is not going to go forward as a prosecution has value.”

Virginia has no statute of limitations for felonies, which means that a crime can be prosecuted many years later, as happened in the attack on UVA graduate Liz Seccuro, who was raped in the Phi Kappa Psi house in 1984 and whose assailant, William N. Beebe, was convicted of sexual assault more than two decades later, after he wrote Seccuro a letter of apology. The Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office has successfully prosecuted several other cases in which the reports were made well after the fact, Chapman said.

Chapman said his office attempts to give victims as much control as possible over the process. “In the absence of a great risk that the suspect would re-offend, we would give the victim choice about whether a prosecutable offense goes forward,” said Chapman. But he acknowledges that there are times when a victim is ready to pursue a conviction and the Commonwealth declines to prosecute. “There are cases in which we reach a decision that it can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a difficult place to be and conversation to have, and at the same time, that’s part of our responsibility in our niche of law enforcement.”

Victims wishing to report a sexual assault that occurred in Charlottesville at any time can contact his office or police directly or go through the Victim/Witness Assistance Program, which is housed in the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

“They’d meet with an attorney who could listen to what they can describe,” said Chapman. “The attorney would talk to them about the options from here. Is it something for which services are important? Something for which an official report might be appropriate?”

Similar support is available for victims in Albemarle County.

Charlottesville Police Department: 970-3280

Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney and Victim/Witness Program: 970-3176

Albemarle County Police Department and Victim/Witness Program: 296-5807

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