Mandatory reporting procedures cause tensions with students

It’s a student’s worst nightmare. Walking home alone late at night, it’s the sneaking feeling that something bad could happen.

And recently on Sunday, Nov. 13, something did. A girl was sexually assaulted near Pioneer Cemetery while walking home from a party around midnight. The unidentified male — white and six feet tall with a medium build @@uh oh. is it [email protected]@— is the main suspect, and the whole school has been warned of his presence in Campus Crime Alerts.

The incident exposes one of the better sides of the recently controversial mandatory reporting policy being reaffirmed by the University this year. Thankfully this survivor chose to report the assault, which makes students aware of a dangerous predator around campus.

At the same time, it exposes an issue a large group of students around campus are worried about. This group, which includes representatives of the University Women’s Center@@, ASUO, LGBTQA, SWAT and the Survival Center, expressed their concerns at the ASUO Senate meeting last Wednesday.

Their concerns come from a Dear Colleague Letter addressing how to handle sexual assault reports sent to administrators of schools from the Department of Education.

Mandatory reporting means all University employees are required to report any sexual assault they are notified of, even if the survivor wants anonymity and did not plan to speak with DPS.

The employee is then required to report it to their boss, and it will continue up a chain until it reaches University Dean of Students Paul Shang.@@[email protected]@

“They make it sound like I’m at the top of a very tall hill,” Shang said. “There are just not that many steps. A report is made, and what’s most important is what happens right then and there.

“Once we’re assured the survivor knows all the resources and feels he or she is getting the support necessary, then that’s it.”

But Nina Nolen, public relations coordinator for the Women’s Center, disagrees with this system.@@[email protected]@

“It’s taking steps away from a survivor-empowerment model,” Nolen said. “It will allow DPS and the Office of the Dean of Students to make decisions relating to the survivor of sexual assault without the survivor’s permission.”

However, the letter itself states “schools also should inform and obtain consent from the complainant … before beginning an investigation.” It says if the survivor requests confidentiality, the school should take steps to investigate and respond within the survivor’s requests.

“The part that might have to happen is if there is a threat to the greater community,” Associate Dean of Students Sheryl Eyster said@@[email protected]@. “There may be a rare occasion where the University may have to act on information that’s given to them that could potentially put other people at risk.”

She clarified this does not mean the survivor will be involved.

“If the University goes forward, that does not mean the victim has to,” Eyster said. “The University potentially doesn’t have a witness to the situation.”

Another issue is DPS’s potential role in the process. Some are under the impression that if a report is made, DPS will contact the survivor whether or not he or she wants to file a report.

“If we get the call, we will make contact with the survivor and immediately call the Eugene Police Department,” Det. Lee Thoming of DPS said. “We won’t initiate an investigation or prosecution without a survivor’s permission. There is no truth to that whatsoever.”

At the Senate meeting, they discussed this issue of student resident assistants being mandatory reporters.

“If you come out as a survivor to your resident assistant, your resident assistant whom you trust is required to turn around and tell the Office of the Dean of Students,” Nolen said. This might make students afraid to talk about an assault to someone in their hall.

During the meeting, an emphasis was made on spreading awareness of survivor-support centers in which people can talk in complete confidentially. These places include the University Health Center, the University Counseling Center and the Sexual Assault Support Services@@ in Eugene.

After an emotional meeting, the ASUO Senate approved a resolution that will, among other things, aim to change mandatory reporting guidelines. This will now be brought in front of the administration. Throughout all of the discussion, one thing was made very clear.

“You need to do it on your own time and in your own way,” University junior and assault survivor Colleen Soles said. “It needs to be on the survivor’s terms.”

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