Before coming to college, I had to have a difficult conversation with my family about the possibility of being sexually assaulted or harassed during my college career. Unfortunately, this conversation isn’t unusual; many other students have probably had a similar discussion with their families. Although it’s an uncomfortable and, honestly, quite terrifying conversation to have, it’s important. Sexual assault is, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence on college campuses. Studies found that 1 in 5 women and 1 and 20 men report assault while enrolled as a student. At UO, a 2019 study recorded the rate of nonconsensual contact either by force or inability to consent among undergraduates. It found that only 20.8% of women, 6.4% percent of men, and 15.3% of trans, gender queer, nonbinary or questioning students who experienced sexual assault made a report.
Fortunately, there is a way for survivors to hold their assailants accountable. Title IX, passed in 1972, prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual assault. Through Title IX, survivors have been able to receive the justice they deserve. It forces universities to acknowledge and take action against sexual violence that occurs on campus, instead of turning a blind eye.
However, in August 2020, there were changes to the regulations that seemed quite questionable. The changes mean students now have limited time to provide all the information necessary about their assault. Section 3(a) of the Formal Student Conduct Process states, “parties must provide names, contact information and a summary of expected information for any proposed Witnesses, and any relevant documents within 15 business days of receiving the notice of allegations”.
Nicole Commissiong, UO’s Title IX Coordinator, said that putting a timeline is a way to get the process started in a timely manner, but students could receive more time if needed. However, this isn’t stated in any official documents. That lack of transparency could discourage survivors from reporting their assault. Fifteen days is an arbitrary amount of time for a survivor to gather all the information to start their case. After going through such a severe trauma, like sexual assault, having to get all the resources and information available can be like reliving the experience all over again.
Survivors can experience any number of stress responses in the aftermath of an assault. In fact, a U.S. Department of Justice study found that 34% of college student survivors experienced PTSD, 33% experienced depression and 40% experienced drug or alcohol abuse.
Furthermore, on the federal level, Section 3 of the Final Title IX Regulation states, “All students now have the right to a live hearing where advisors conduct cross-examinations.” UO already conducted cross-examinations prior to this federal change, but now it will be more direct, and each party will have an advisor that will ask the questions. If a party chooses to not attend or the advisor doesn’t come to the cross-examination, then an advisor will be provided by the university.
This raised concerns for a former UO law professor, Cheyney Ryan. Ryan said he believes that cross-examination has no benefit in these cases. He believes it isn’t necessary if the goal of this examination is to see whether the assault occurred. Also, if the survivor doesn’t have an advisor or doesn’t go to the cross-examination, some survivors have expressed fear that the advisor appointed by the university might not fight for them the way they would need them to. Furthermore, if a party or a witness doesn’t come to the cross-examination, their statements won’t be taken into consideration when coming to a decision of holding the assailant accountable. However, Commissiong said that this is a requirement by federal regulations and therefore can’t be adjusted.
Ryan is right: These changes will discourage students from reporting their assaults. Survivors might not feel protected enough by their university to hold their assailant accountable.
Unfortunately, all universities will have to uphold these new regulation changes, but there has to be a way for UO to protect their students from these new regulations.
UO needs to make it clear that they’re sympathetic to survivors. When it comes to the 15-day timeline; the school should communicate in Section 3(a) that a student can be granted more time if needed. When it comes to the cross-examination regulations, it needs to be made clear that time will be made to interview a witness that joins late in the process. The language in the FSCP should be encouraging and show survivors that they will be supported, rather than make them feel that they’ll have to face several obstacles in order to hold their assailant accountable.