The University of Oregon is hoping to encourage students to report sexual assault by letting them know they will not be held responsible for drug or alcohol use while they are seeking help for themselves or others who have been sexually assaulted.
The practice, commonly known as drug and alcohol amnesty, is spelled out in the university’s standard operating procedures for sexual assault complaints, which has been updated and posted to the Student Conduct and Community Standards web page. The university emailed all students the first day of winter term to be sure they know about the practice.
Sandy Weintraub, the UO’s director of student conduct and community standards, said while the practice isn’t new, it has not been written down in one easily accessible place until now. Weintraub also wants to make it very clear that the university doesn’t condone underage drinking or illegal drug use, and amnesty is for very specific safety issues.
“We want to be sure if a student has been sexually assaulted, is suffering a medical emergency or is otherwise in serious danger, they get help. Their safety is our No. 1 concern,” Weintraub said. “We know that drugs and alcohol are sometimes involved in sexual misconduct, and we don’t want a witness or a survivor not coming forward because they’re afraid of getting in trouble.”
The updated standard operating procedures also detail the process of how sexual assault complaints are handled by the university, from receiving information to investigating reports and appealing decisions. Weintraub said the updated procedures follow industry best practices and reflect guidance from the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
Vice President for Student Life Robin Holmes said it is important that all students, both those who are reporting and those who are accused of misconduct, understand how sexual assault reports are handled from start to finish. Documenting them more clearly is part of the university’s ongoing effort to halt an epidemic of sexual violence and change the culture on college campuses across the nation.
“These procedures make it clear that students will be supported and protected, that they will have choices and that the process will be fair and expeditious,” Holmes said.
The UO Board of Trustees approved a series of changes to the UO’s Student Code of Conduct last year. Holmes said the procedures will continue to be updated to reflect new laws, rules or guidance as necessary.