Students can “expect to be listened to” during Friday’s sexual assault policy forum

The debate over University of Oregon’s sexual assault reporting policy is likely to take another turn this week. The UO Senate Workgroup on Responsible Reporting will hold a public forum this Friday, Sept. 30 from 1:00-2:30 p.m. in Columbia 150.

The workgroup has been crafting a new policy since the UO senate voted down a revision in May, and it aims to have the new policy passed by November.

“We’re trying to get a sense of how students feel,” said McKenna O’Dougherty, one of the two students on the workgroup and a co-facilitator of the event. She added that the committee wants to know the best way to keep survivors central to the conversation and preserve their autonomy.

“We don’t know how to do that with only one [undergraduate] student voice,” she said.

O’Dougherty is one of two student workgroup members who planned the forum and will serve as a facilitator. All of the workgroup will be in attendance to hear feedback.

The forum will include an introduction of the committee members and a brief history of the sexual assault reporting policy. The majority of the time allotted will be dedicated to gaining student feedback. Students will be able to submit responses anonymously during the forum, or through an online portal that will open soon, O’Dougherty said.  

The workgroup will ask specific questions related to mandatory reporting, such as which UO employees students expect to be a reporter and which they expect to keep conversations confidential.

Additionally, the workgroup hopes to understand student assumptions about sexual assault, given the backdrop of recent, high-profile sexual misconduct cases at UO and other universities. O’Dougherty and other workgroup members are concerned that the national attention and polemic public reaction these events have gained might deter survivors from coming forward.

“I fear there’s an attitude like, ‘Why would I get help if it’s just going to be more painful?’ We’re really trying to build another reality outside of that,” O’Dougherty said.

It’s a fear bolstered by statistics. According to a 2015 campus climate survey, one in five UO undergraduate women experienced unwanted sexual advances, sexual assault or rape. Of the surveyed sexual assault victims who did not report the incident, more than half felt nothing would be done about the incident or the report would not be kept confidential.  

Those numbers and victim reactions have been mentioned in some of the workgroup’s weekly meetings. They have influenced the group’s goals to narrow the university’s approach to mandatory reporting and implement an option for online reporting.

And they’re a primary reason that the workgroup is eager to gain student perspective on Friday.

Students should “expect to be listened to,” O’Dougherty said. “We really want to hear what people have to say.”

A Recent History of Sexual Assault Reporting Policy at UO:

Nov. 2013: The university implemented new staff training that revitalized a longstanding policy: mandatory reporting. Most UO staff members were informed of their duty to report any evidence of sexual assault.

Apr. 3, 2015: While the university was recovering from a high-profile rape case, then interim President Scott Coltrane announced an anti-sexual assault plan. It included altering the mandatory reporting policy to encourage more sexual assault survivors to come forward.

Sept. 11, 2015: A campus climate survey revealed that one in five UO undergraduate females experienced unwanted sexual advances, sexual assault or rape.

May 18, 2016: The UO senate voted down a policy that would have clarified and broadened the university’s approach to mandatory reporting.

Aug. 19, 2016: President Schill enacted an emergency policy that made almost all university employees mandatory reporters.

Sept. 30, 2016: The workgroup will gather feedback to shape the forthcoming policy at a student forum to be held from 1:00-2:30 pm at Columbia 150.

Nov. 19, 2016: The workgroup aims to have the new policy passed by the UO senate.

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Emily Olson

Emily Olson

Emily Olson is an associate news editor at the Emerald. She likes coffee.