RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — VCU Chief of Police John Venuti on Tuesday laid out details regarding a new pilot program aimed at improving communication with potential victims of sexual assault.
The ‘You Have Options’ initiative aims to keep track of sexual assault incidents and give potential victims the option to only report information and stay anonymous if they choose. They can also request a partial or full investigation.
“I think that, obviously, the challenge for police departments is that we want survivors coming forward and reporting,” Chief Venuti said. “And I think that’s specifically what this program is designed to do.”
Students think the new pilot program will be beneficial.
“Once one person starts feeling confident enough to come forward using this pilot program, more people are going to feel empowered to do it,” freshman Sneha Krish told 8News. “So, it’s a great kind of coalition that’s going to be forming.”
VCU is the first jurisdiction on the East Coast to implement YHOP. The program started in Ashland, Oregon three years ago. Police departments there have since seen a 106 percent increase in victim reporting.
“A lot of times we hear of shame or guilt, so really, implementing this program was important because we want to take those barriers away from the survivors and give them that control over the reporting process,” Detective Chelsey McCarty with the VCU Police Department explained.
So far, 19 cases of sexual assault have been reported at VCU this school year. That’s compared to 28 last year.
For the most part, students don’t seem worried but say it’s important to stay vigilant.
“Overall I think I do feel safe as long as we take precautions,” freshman Priyanka Shah added,
The ‘You Have Options Program’ is part of the paradigm shift that VCUPD has made in handling sexual assault cases since 2010, calling it “survivor-centered and offender focused.”