On patrol and on a mission: ODU resets how it handles sexual assault survivors


NORFOLK. Va. (WAVY) — Old Dominion University in Norfolk has joined more than 100 other universities, including six in Virginia, that have launched a new approach in responding to sexual assault survivors.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 13% of the nation’s college students report they have been sexually assaulted. The new approach, called “Start By Believing,” is a campus-wide effort to instill greater trust in survivors who have been traumatized by crimes that often involve force.

10 On Your Side canvassed the Norfolk campus to gauge student reaction to the reset for police and the entire university community. It didn’t take long to find a sexual assault survivor. This is what the woman, who we will not identify, told 10 On Your Side following a question about the new approach by those who handle sexual assault cases:

Student: “Personally I like that because I have been in that situation.”

Regina Mobley: “So are you saying you were the victim of sexual assault?”

Student: “Yeah, it’s been a year ago.”

Regina Mobley: “Did it happen in Norfolk?”

Student: “No.”

The student was told there is no statute of limitations in a criminal matter in Virginia and she could still press charges. She responded she was aware of this, but told only her parents and close friend about the crime because she didn’t want to ruin her campus life experience.

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Start by Believing is the university’s effort to bring justice and support to those who have been violated, often by force. Rhonda L. Harris is the chief of police and is involved in the initiative.

Rhonda Harris, chief of ODU police

“We’re going to reset and approach sexual assault investigations differently; I think you will see this happening across the country as police are thinking bout trauma-informed investigations and just being more aware of the trauma sexual assault has on these victims,” said Harris.

The program is in place on more than 100 campuses across the country and on six campuses in Virginia.

This reset follows the 2014 case in which a rape victim sued the school after alleging she was treated poorly by campus police. The case was settled for $249,000.

Start by Believing is on display on a billboard along Hampton Boulevard, 50 yard signs, and on the internet in an eight-minute video that takes you around the campus — from the president’s office to the fitness center with Start by Believing messages.

The program promises to believe, bring justice, and wrap programs of support around the arms of victims, just as the unidentified survivor is getting support from her friend.

“When she told me what happened, we immediately were like, ‘What do you need and what can we do to help?’ We will be there every step of the way,” she said.

Campus police say if you are the victim of a sexual assault at ODU call 757-683-4000.

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