OSU aims to provide resources for survivors

Tiffani Smith, News Contributor

Sexual assault survivors do not need to make an official report to receive help

Starting out her first year at Oregon State University, freshman Stephanie Kutcher was excited to begin her college experience. She went to classes, got a job and made new friends, as expected. However, during her fall term, Kutcher’s OSU experience changed. Kutcher was sexually assaulted.

Kutcher did not report immediately after her sexual assault because she was worried that people would judge her for reporting.

“The first three days after it happened, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it because I didn’t want to complain,” Kutcher said. “Going in is scary because people can see you walking in there. Even though no one really cares and no one’s really going to think twice about it, sometimes you feel like everybody is staring at you and watching you go in.”

According to Kutcher, another challenge she faced in regard to reporting her sexual assault was the time she needed to emotionally prepare herself.

“It takes a lot of emotional energy to go (report), it’s just a lot of extra energy. You have to prepare for it and I just haven’t had time to prepare myself for it,” Kutcher said.

Regardless if survivors choose to report or not, OSU provides numerous resources and has several organizations dedicated to providing support, advocacy and help to sexual assault and sexual violence survivors. These resources and organizations include, but are not limited to, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center, Sexual Assault Support Services and the Department of Public Safety/Oregon State Police.

Judy Neighbours is the associate director of the SARC at OSU and works specifically with survivors. According to Neighbours, it is recognized many survivors face various challenges that may delay or prevent them from reporting their sexual assault.

“According to what survivors have told me, and what the research suggests, is that many survivors choose not to tell for a variety of reasons,” Neighbours said in an email. “These reasons include not thinking the assault was serious enough to report, fear of not being believed, fear of being blamed, fear of lack of support or even retribution, not wanting to get someone in trouble and belief that it is not going to help them recover.”

Although Kutcher has been reluctant to report her sexual assault, she is now seriously considering going in and seeking out legal and emotional resources.

“When I found out a friend could come with me, I changed my mind and it made me feel more comfortable with going,” Kutcher said.

Making a report

According to the EOA website, under the legal requirements of Title IX, OSU has a policy prohibiting any form of sexual harassment, including stalking, dating and domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual assault.

Kim Kirkland, the executive director of EOA and OSU’s Title IX coordinator is responsible for the implementation of and monitoring compliance with respect to violations of the university’s policy prohibiting any form of sexual harassment.

Survivors are able to report incidents of any form of sexual harassment to EOA, according to Kirkland. Under the requirements of Title IX, all reporting survivors are given a number of rights during the investigation and hearing, including due process. Other rights given to reporting survivors include notice and opportunity to supply testimony, evidence, witnesses and the ability to have someone with them for support, as well as an appeal route.

Sexual harassment reports, especially sexual assault reports, can also be made to the DPS/OSP in Cascade Hall. According to Senior Trooper Johnathan Wolfenbarger of the OSP, individuals can report incidents of sexual assault by calling DPS on their emergency or nonemergency line, directly speaking with a dispatcher at the DPS office or by waving down a DPS officer or OSP. If an incident of sexual assault is happening immediately, reports can also be made on the spot by using a Blue Light Emergency Phone, Wolfenbarger added.

“If it’s a case where there possibly is someone that’s still out, maybe a random attacker, we’re going to be out there right away, as quickly as we can,” Wolfenbarger said. “We’re going to be taking the statement from them (the individual that made the report) and have other officers going to wherever the scene was, processing the scene to see if we can find some evidence, maybe bringing in a dog tracker.”

The longer after an incident of sexual assault has occurred, the longer the investigation of the incident may take, according to Wolfenbarger.

“If it’s not a case that just happened, or a hot call, there’s going to be more time taken to establish everything that happened, get a full statement from the victim or the survivor, talk with them about when and where and what happened, maybe even talk to some witnesses if there were any that can help point toward what happened,” Wolfenbarger said.

Upon making an official report, an investigation will ensue and a case will be established, according to Wolfenbarger. Once a case report is completed and sufficient evidence is collected to presumably prove the case, the report is sent to the district attorney’s office. From there, the case will be presented in trial in front of a jury and judge, Wolfenbarger added.

“The jury gets to decide, after all the closing statements have been given and all the witnesses have talked, whether or not to charge the suspect with whatever (they are accused of),” Wolfenbarger said.

According to Kutcher, it is a difficult and scary task to officially report your sexual assault, regardless of the method chosen.

“When it comes to reporting it, for some reason you just feel like they’re not going to believe you, or they’ll say like, ‘Oh, that’s not actually sexual assault, that’s just you being an idiot,’” Kutcher said. “You can’t help but think in the back of your mind that someone’s just going to think you’re being dumb.”

The choice of whether or not to conduct an investigation on a sexual assault report is up to the survivor, but regardless of the decision, DPS/OSP is a resource that all survivors can use, according to Wolfenbarger.

“We’re here for you. We go to work every day wanting to help the community and we will do everything we can to help you feel safe and bring normalcy and power back to your life and we’re here to support you,” Wolfenbarger said. “Just know that we’re here to help and we’re not going to judge and we want (survivors) to come forward and talk to us so we can help them process it. Whether they decide to go forward with an investigation or not, they can come and talk to me and we can talk about options, we can talk about support systems. If they want to go forward with an investigation, great, if not, that’s good too. We’ll help you however you want.”

Resources provided on campus

Due to stigmas—such as those faced by Kutcher—OSU offers confidential resources dedicated to providing support for survivors, according to Shaznin Daruwalla, a psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services and SASS. These resources also provide. advocacy and help for survivors, on top of the ability to report incidents of sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment.

“Recognizing that there is a stigma around sexual violence as well as a lot of myths around sexual violence is one of the reasons we offer confidential services,” Daruwalla said via email. “We also use the services to empower and give agency to the student who is seeking the services.”

SASS offers care for individuals who have experienced trauma as well as individual and group counseling sessions, according to Daruwalla. Psychologists within SASS can also facilitate referrals as needed, both within and outside of the OSU community. Additional support that falls under the context of trauma-informed care can also be provided as requested or needed by the survivor, including additional counseling sessions, Daruwalla added.

According to Ray, OSU aims to help survivors recover after incidents of sexual assault by providing institutional support in various forms.

“In far too many cases, survivors are burdened with an additional sense of institutional betrayal as they attempt—oftentimes alone and without others’ understanding or care—to recover physically and emotionally having been betrayed by the very colleges or universities responsible for student safety and security,” Ray said via email. “Our goal is to be supportive of each survivor who comes to us and follow due process.”

One of the ways survivors can seek such support on campus is through the SARC.

According to Neighbours, SARC is a confidential organization that can provide survivors with emotional support and assistance with crises. Although individuals cannot make reports to SARC due to the organization’s confidentiality policy, SARC offers services such as informing survivors about and connecting survivors to medical and counseling resources, housing relocation, support in managing and maintaining academic success and legal and administrative proceeding assistance.

“We are able to help survivors understand their rights regarding reporting to either the university or to law enforcement,” Neighbours said. “Our hope is that by informing them of their rights and how to report, they are then able to make the best choice for themselves.”

Continuing to Improve

OSU President Ed Ray said he has been working with the university on sexual assault awareness in various ways to continually improve.

“Over the past four years, we have altered the sexual assault conversation at Oregon State University. And we have altered and greatly expanded our survivor support services and the university’s sexual assault prevention and response efforts,” Ray said via email. “I am committed to continue these services at Oregon State and improve them as part of our many efforts to support survivors and bring an end to sexual assaults.”

According to Steve Clark, OSU vice president of university relations and marketing, changes and advancements in regard to prevention of sexual violence have recently been made at OSU. These changes include instituting a nationally-acclaimed policy prohibiting transfer students, who are unable to re-enroll in a post-secondary educational institution due to student conduct reasons, from enrolling at OSU and implementing sexual harassment training and reporting systems in the College of Pharmacy as well as the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.

“Bottom line, we are all responsible for fostering a safe environment for every individual within the university community,” Clark said in an email. “Looking ahead, we recognize there is still much work to be done. But we are fortunate that ASOSU leaders and so many students are involved in these efforts from the ground up.”

Individuals who want to help and advocate for survivors can do so as long as it is done supportively, according to Daruwalla.

“Listen nonjudgmentally, believe and support. (This is) something that the Survivor Advocacy Resource Center uses as their model,” Daruwalla said. “Don’t question the experience, don’t find blame or fault-finding. It’s more along the lines of what I would recommend and what CAPS would recommend; if you have a survivor and you’re looking to support the survivor, listen to their story, do not ask them questions about their story, do not ask them to share their story, just follow the lead, is what I’m also trying to say.”

Survivors can also find support from other survivors and share their feelings with individuals that have more of an understanding, according to Kutcher.

“For people who are survivors, there’s a huge family of people who feel your pain, even if it’s something small,” Kutcher said. “You do not need to feel like you have to be raped to report something. You have to know that anything you feel uncomfortable with can be considered (sexual) assault. It’s okay to not have the worst story in the world. It’s still bad.”