Review panel hears student views on sexual misconduct

The university should review its mandatory reporting rules for sexual misconduct and provide more clarity about what happens after a report is made, students told an external review panel Tuesday.

The comments came in the first of two meetings held Oct. 7 by the President’s Review Panel, appointed to make recommendations for improving the UO’s response to sexual misconduct. The meetings took place in the Global Scholars residence hall and were intended to give students an opportunity to weigh in on the issues.

Students expressed concerns about the reporting process as well as the kind of education and outreach offered by the university to help prevent misconduct and assaults. One student also said the university needs to make sure that groups that don’t fit the mold of traditional students, such as international and transfer students, don’t get overlooked.

Graduate student Jessica Sarontay, who works on sexual violence prevention education in the dean of students office, said one thing that’s needed is more reliable information on what happens after a report is made. As it is now, students don’t know what to expect, and the outcome for too many of them has been further trauma, she said.

Sarontay said that too often she hears students who have tried to report sexual assaults say they “would rather be assaulted again than report again. The process of reporting has been more traumatic than the assault itself.”

Sofia Mackey, a UO undergraduate, told the panel the university needs to be sure it reaches nontraditional students as it develops education programs on sexual misconduct. Those programs sometimes are focused on incoming resident freshmen and aren’t tailored to international or transfer students or those in underrepresented groups who need a different approach.

Mackey also read from comments offered by a graduate student concerned about the university’s mandatory reporting rules, which require any university employee who is told of possible sexual misconduct to report it to a supervisor or university police. She quoted the student as saying the rules are not well communicated, are difficult to understand and leave students afraid to talk about an assault out of fear they will be forced into a formal reporting process.

In the evening session, a staff member at the UO Women’s Center said the mandatory reporting rules need to be relaxed so support providers can offer confidentiality to survivors. The rule sometimes discourages women from reporting assaults, she said.

Another student gave an emotional account of her own sexual assault, which occurred on campus last year. While she said she received invaluable support from some university staff, she said the experience was far more difficult and traumatic than it should have been and that some support staff and faculty failed to listen or help.

Another student, sophomore Thomas Forman, said the university needs to be more proactive and address the issue before assaults happen. As a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, he said the university should require all pledges to attend sexual assault prevention programs, and not just once but every year or even every term.

He also suggested the university post a list of all Greek organizations that have ever been put on probation and the reason, and he said houses should be required to have “sober monitors” at functions to police alcohol use.

As with other meetings of the review panel, the sessions Tuesday were lightly attended. About 30 people were present for the first session and three students spoke. But panel members remained after the speakers finished and spoke with students individually, and panel Chair Mary Diets said more than 75 comments have been received online and dozens of students have commented to panel members.

A second meeting held in the early evening saw a larger turnout, particularly among students. About 50 people were in attendance, and a half-dozen students spoke.

Law professor John Bonine also spoke and asked the panel to be cautious about recommending that the university take part in a campus climate survey organized through the Association of American Universities. He said the organization, of which the UO is the only Oregon member, might have a conflict of interest because it is made up of university administrators.

The eight-member review panel is working in parallel with a task force appointed by the UO Senate to examine sexual assault and survivor support, which recently heard preliminary results from a campus climate survey done by UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd and two graduate students. The survey suggests that sexual assault and misconduct happens much more often than crime statistics show and agrees with the popular belief that such incidents are vastly underreported.

The senate panel already has made some preliminary recommendations, which interim UO President Scott Coltrane has moved to accept, and is expected to submit additional proposals soon. The external review panel is expected to make its recommendations later this month.

―By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications