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Summit Addresses Combating Sexual Violence on College Campuses

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RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Governor Terry McAuliffe says he is adamant about change on college campuses - change to combat sexual violence. During a summit on the topic in Richmond Friday, he announced he is getting input from the parents of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.

University leaders, law enforcement, and students came together for the Attorney General Mark Herring's Sexual Violence Summit in Richmond this week. But the advocates could not ignore one very prevalent case that has rattled Charlottesville and the UVA community.

UVA second-year student Hannah Graham was last seen in downtown Charlottesville on September 13. Her remains were found on a vacant property in Albemarle County on October 18. A suspect, Jesse Matthew, has been charged with abduction with intent to defile in connection with her death. Matthew has also been linked by DNA to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax and the Morgan Harrington case.

McAuliffe says Graham's parents are sharing their perspective on dealing with sexual violence on college campuses. The governor said he will not share details of their private discussions, but he is adamant that we cannot send our students away to school without making sure they are safe.

"Every parent thinks about this and your heart goes out to the Graham family, their daughter going away to college, you just want to make sure that your children live in a safe environment," McAuliffe said.

The Graham case has reinvigorated work for groups like the Sexual Violence Summit to find a solution to the problem of sexual violence. Advocates hope to change our system from being reactive to proactive. During his speech Friday, McAuliffe said we need to continue the movement, as a community, to tackle the issue.

"We got to talk to one another, we got to watch out for our fellow students. It's a message, and nobody should be afraid of coming forward," he said. "Out of the Hannah Graham - the horrible, horrible tragedy that occurred - I do think what came out of that is we have to do a better job looking out for each other."

Students at the summit spoke about victim-blaming, bystander intervention, and normalization of these crimes in the media. “With the Hannah Graham case, there were many people who saw her before she was abducted, but they didn't step in and say something. By teaching our students that they should be active bystanders, meaning if they see something, they need to speak up," Old Dominion student Saige Hill said.

Hill also says we need to - as a society - stop putting the blame on the victim, and cultivate a culture of accountability and respect for others.

The governor said it is impossible to have a healthy, thriving set of college communities when sexual assaults happen so frequently against students and, in the majority of cases, go unreported.

In August, Governor McAuliffe also launched a task force for sexual violence on college campuses, led by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. That group will meet until it has a final report to send to the governor by next June.
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