OSU sexual assault survivors feel unsupported in university reporting process

Delaney Shea, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: The following article discusses sexual assault. The article uses anonymous sources who have decided to share their experiences. The anonymous survivors felt motivated to speak to The Barometer because they want to fight the stigma associated with sexual assault, and they want to see changes in the way the university processes it. Names with an asterisk are pseudonyms. The Barometer has reviewed email chains between the survivors and EOA, no-contact orders, a legal document, a university sanction notification and Title IX filings pertinent to the crimes discussed in this article.

Sexual assault often slips by, unnoticed by anyone but the survivor and those they choose to confide in. The individuals affected may persistently struggle to continue living as confidently or feel as secure as before. 

When sexual assault takes place, students may choose to file a Title IX report with the office of Equal Opportunity & Access. Although OSU provides support resources and various reporting paths, some survivors of sexual assault have experienced multiple barriers as they attempt to report and receive help from the university, making them feel discouraged and deprioritized. The EOA was unable to be reached for comment, as it does not give interviews regarding its process, due to

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its sensitive nature.

Incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct against students enrolled at a university are reported to campus officials and law enforcement infrequently, according to the Association of American Universities. Reporting rates for all sexual assaults ranged from 5-28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior. According to the Clery Act, which requires universities to report crimes that take place on or near their campuses, Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus reported 15 sexual assaults in 2016. Sexual assault is an umbrella term for rapes, fondling, incest and statutory rape. Combining these two statistics indicates that the true number of assaults could be somewhere between 75-140 per year. Whether the low reporting rate is due to social stigma, discouragement from others or an uncertainty regarding the process, the specific reason for reporting or choosing to stay quiet varies from person to person. 

When a sexual assault occurs on OSU’s campus, survivors may choose to report the crime to the police, OSU’s office of EOA or the Sexual Assault Resource Center. The EOA handles all Title IX complaints, including cases of sexual violence, and thus is the department with the ability to place school-based sanctions on students found to have violated the Code of Conduct. 

Diana*, an OSU student who said she was raped on campus, and whose name has been changed to protect her identity, felt discouraged by the university from going through with her report. Her request for anonymity was granted due to the intensely personal nature of her experiences. Diana reported the assault, which she said occurred in an OSU dorm building, within five hours of the incident. Soon thereafter, she met with EOA.

Diana was clear about what she experienced.

“I was not drunk,” Diana said. “I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t do any of that stuff. I was not incapacitated by any means. I know what happened to me.”

According to Diana, she helped the university in any way that she could, but still ended up waiting over a year with no resolution. 

“We had this big meeting with everybody and they were like we will have information to you and a final say by the student conduct within 60 days,” Diana said. “I gave them my statement, I gave them whatever I could, and here we are, June 3, still nothing. Over a year ago. Still nothing.”

According to the Sexual Misconduct and Discrimination Investigation and Resolution Process for students, the EOA attempts to resolve allegations within 60 days, but this time period can be extended by the Title IX coordinator for what are determined by EOA to be good causes, including cooperating with a simultaneous criminal investigation. The document, which can be found on the OSU website, explains EOA will provide anyone involved with regular status updates when appropriate.

According to Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing, the university seeks to respond in a timely

and ever-improving manner. 

“I never question how any person feels or what they believe,” Clark said via email. “We have changed our procedures and the process significantly since the start of fall term 2017. We believe that these changes are meaningful and serve both the reporting party and responding party. As matters of concern or questions regarding our processes are brought to our attention, we constantly seek to improve. I do know that we seek to provide for an investigation and resolution within a timely 60-day period. Each case is different, and that makes the schedule for each case different.”

Diana expressed frustration at perceived mixed signals and ostensible backtracking by EOA.

“What they did, they said okay, all the information is in and they’d given him (Diana’s* attacker) all the chances to give more to his side and so it was closed, the investigation was closed, which means they can’t add any more information, but a month after it was closed, they allowed him to add more information,” Diana alleged. “They allowed him to add another full report.”

Diana felt frustrated further when she went to EOA for help sorting out her classes.

“I don’t enjoy talking to them, I really dislike EOA, and I want nothing to do with them,” Diana said.  “However, a survivor has to go to them for help regarding classes. That is the only department that can help you with Title IX.”

Diana also mentioned not feeling supported by the Student Advocacy and Resource Center, and says its descriptions of the low success rates of sexual assault cases filed made her feel discouraged from reporting. 

According to Gambee, an OSU student who says she survived an on-campus rape, EOA had consistently poor communication. Gambee asked to go by her last name to protect her identity, and her request for partial anonymity was granted due to the intensely personal nature of her experiences. 

“I wish they had contacted me more. I got maybe five emails from EOA the whole time this was going on,” Gambee said. “Basically I had to tell my CAPS counselor to keep contacting them because I would go see them every week and they would be like, well did you hear anything yet? And I was like nope I’ve heard nothing, and they were like do you want me to contact them? And I was like yes, please, and every week it was just the same thing, they were like I contacted them, I heard nothing. Do you want me to contact them again?”

“It was just a continuous please contact them, please contact them, and just hearing nothing,” Gambee added. ”Because even though the person I had initially reported to had left, they told me I had another representative from EOA who I never met with, I had never talked to once, nothing from them. Complete silence.”

The case was passed between EOA workers multiple times, Gambee said.

Gambee, however, spoke highly of SARC and CAPS, and felt that they supported her throughout her process.

“CAPS is great, they were so supportive,” Gambee said. “They were like yes, we totally believe you, you should report and do all this. And so they set me up with SARC. And I went to SARC and they were amazing as well, they were so supportive. Doing everything they could to help me.”

Eventually, after nine months, Gambee’s attacker was determined to have violated the Student Conduct Code and given a four-year suspension, after which he may return to school, provided he notifies the Director of Student Conduct in writing, describing his post-suspension activities and plans for returning to OSU.

SARC offers meetings with confidential advocates who can help survivors explore their options, according to their website.

According to Carol*, an OSU student who says she survived an on-campus rape in 2017, and while EOA missed deadlines and communicated in a subpar manner, Student Health Services and SARC were helpful. Carol’s name has been changed to protect her identity, and her request for anonymity was granted due to the intensely personal nature of her experiences.

“I was assaulted probably just over a year ago by a guy that I went on a date with,” Carol said. “I did not plan on reporting it but I did go get an exam done, at Student Health Services. They were great.”

According to Carol, she eventually reported to EOA due to fears that what happened to her would happen to someone else, but she had a difficult time.  

“They could’ve actually done their job,” Carol said. “I asked them to report and they did not go forward with it and I contacted them a few months later and they said, you never asked us to go forward, and I was like but I did, so I cut all ties with them from that point. I got a no-contact order from it and I left it at that.”

Clark was unable to respond to requests for comment on the handling of specific cases, as FERPA restrictions prevent discussions of students’ personal information. 

As the university has updated their procedures, changes may come to how OSU processes sexual assault reports.