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Defense Date


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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Policy & Administration

First Advisor

Sarah Jane Brubaker


On April 4, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter on campus sexual assault reaffirming the intent of Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination sex-based under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. In response to growing concern over due process rights for defendants, in September 2017 the guidance was rescinded. Public policy continues to evolve, leading to potentially lasting institutional changes on many college campuses. These developments include the formalization of campus investigations and adjudications, the development of campus coordinating committees and expanded support mechanisms for victims. In Virginia, laws passed in 2015 require transcript notations and notification to law enforcement prosecutors’ offices of certain sexual assault offenses reported to colleges and universities. To date, no research exists on how prosecutors, as the presumed gateway to justice, make sense of and navigate these emerging developments when making decisions about cases. The present study helps to fill that void by using inductive qualitative methods through a symbolic interactionism theoretical framework. The findings are based on in-depth interviews with prosecutors across Virginia to examine how they create meaning based on case elements in campus sexual assault cases including legal considerations and victim and offender characteristics, as well as their perceptions of the influence of internal and external relationships on their decision-making. A modified grounded theory approach informed data coding and analysis, which yielded the development of a theory that explains the ways various factors and interactions with campus officials, and survivors that influence prosecutors’ action including decisions to charge, to take a case to trial and to collaborate. Results of the study inform the development of public policy to ultimately improve practice, collaboration and information sharing processes in both campus and criminal justice-prosecution systems.


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