Helping sexual assault survivors

In an effort to further protect the privacy of sexual assault survivors on campus, Oregon State University is changing how it collects data on sexual assaults. But the change will not affect how sexual assault survivors access resources, or how OSU staff and faculty should respond to a student or co-worker informing them that they’ve been assaulted.

Sexual assault on college campuses is notoriously underreported, experts say, often because survivors are afraid to report the assault, because they don’t want to live through the process of a criminal case, or simply because they would rather not speak about the assault to strangers.

But survivors of sexual assault do sometimes confide in university faculty and staff. For a number of years, OSU faculty and staff have had the option of offering survivors an anonymous reporting form (ARF). Its purpose was not to provide information on a crime to law enforcement, but was simply a way to collect data on possible sexual assaults. Similar forms have been used on many other college campuses.

The decision to remove the form came after OSU’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Alliance, the OSU Office of Equity and Inclusion and Sexual Assault Support Services examined university policies on responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence under Title IX directives, and how those policies balanced with protecting the needs of survivors. It was determined that, based on those directives, the form may not truly guarantee anonymity, and it was better to remove the form to make sure the university’s policies were in alignment with federal requirements.

“When we also factored in the multiple concerns that have become clear from the ARFs in recent months, the drawbacks of continuing to offer ARFs clearly outweighed the benefits,” said Linda Anderson, coordinator of Sexual Assault Support Services on campus. This decision was made in consultation with Angelo Gomez, interim executive director for Equity and Inclusion and the university’s Title IX coordinator.

Instead, Anderson said the emphasis will be on educating faculty and staff to provide survivors with as many avenues of support as possible, and working on creating a climate that allows those who have experienced sexual assault to feel safer about disclosing their assault.

“I believe that if we can identify and address the root causes of under-reporting (for example, victim-blaming attitudes and prevalence/acceptance of myths about rape), then this will help to create a climate in which survivors are supported when they disclose, which ultimately will help increase reporting rates,” Anderson said. “This will go much farther than any anonymous form in helping us address this widespread and multifaceted issue, and ultimately enhance the safety of our community.”

Carrie Giese, coordinator for Sexual Violence Prevention and Education at OSU, said it was important to implement federal regulations in a way that remains survivor-focused.

“We want to act out of transparency and honesty,” Giese said.

Giese said she wants faculty and staff to be able to compassionately and effectively respond to anyone speaking to them about a possible sexual assault. The correct response is not to either disbelieve the disclosure, or immediately call the police, but instead to listen to the person discussing the assault, and direct them toward a variety of resources available to them, including OSU Sexual Assault Support Services on campus, or the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, both of which provide confidential crisis response.

If persons want to pursue action against their perpetrator, then faculty and staff can guide the victim to the Oregon State Police, the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office (if the perpetrator was a student), or the Office of Equity and Inclusion (if the perpetrator was a staff or faculty member). University employees should also be familiar with their responsibilities as detailed in this guidance document: http://oregonstate.edu/oei/sites/default/files/sh_sv_response_final06.26.12.pdf.

Meanwhile, university staff continues to work toward creating a safer campus through education and prevention efforts, as well as continuing to enhance the safety net for those who do suffer a sexual assault.

“We have multiple prevention and education efforts in place,” Anderson said, “and continue to look at ways to enhance policies and procedures.”

 

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