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Dragged Through The Mud

Sexual assault survivors endure

“$30,000. That’s the going rate for rape these days.”

When Laura Hanson settled her case against the University of Oregon for mishandling her allegations of sexual assault against a fraternity brother, the money was not the point. Hanson wanted — and still wants — the UO to fix its broken system of dealing with sexual assault and to support survivors.

She wants to ensure other survivors don’t wait for months with no reply after painfully telling — sometimes again and again — the story of their rapes, that survivors are listened to and their counseling records aren’t taken without their consent as hers were. She wants to ensure other survivors don’t find themselves ostracized by their peers because the school started an investigation — then let it “fall off the radar.”

Hanson’s determination stems from the morning of Jan. 4, 2013, when she awoke naked, confused, her head throbbing. The night before came back to her in bits and pieces. She’d gone to a bar near campus, Taylor’s Bar and Grill, with an underage friend; they’d shared two drinks. Bored, the pair left early and headed back to Hanson’s sorority. The frat across the street, Chi Psi, was throwing a “kickback” — a casual hangout, drinking and watching the Fiesta Bowl. 

Hanson and her friend were handed beers; they joined a card game. Soon, Hanson says, despite having only the equivalent of two sipped drinks, she got dizzy — two beers felt like 10. “I had no control over my body,” she says. She lost her phone even though she isn’t the type of person to misplace things and especially not her phone.

 She blacked out.

“I think of myself as a strong person, self-sufficient,” Hanson says. And with wide blue eyes and shoulder-length brown hair, at moments she looks like a carefree sorority girl, the honors college student she was. 

But when Hanson delves into the story of what happened to her at the UO, she becomes intense and exudes the fierce anger that comes from hurt and betrayal. “You don’t want to admit you are a victim of rape,” she says. “Later a survivor of rape.”

The UO, and colleges across the country, are finally coming to terms with years of not really dealing with the rapes on their campuses. After the police investigated three UO basketball players accused by another young woman of gang rape, the Ducks were thrown into the national spotlight. For years faculty critics had told the campus it was not properly addressing allegations of sexual assault at the UO. The basketball rape case and cases like Laura Hanson’s lend weight to the criticism. The UO is making reforms, but is it enough to reform a broken system or does the UO need a whole new approach?

 

Hanson came to, naked and groggy in the bed of fellow student Wil Smith. “I understood he had sex with me,” she says of the night before. She remembers him pushing his fingers inside her, she remembers telling him, “Wait,” asking if he had a condom. Telling him that she didn’t want to. Telling him, “No.” 

As she collected her things — her clothing scattered around the room, tried to find her phone — she slowly began to realize what had happened. And, “it didn’t make sense.”

Over the next couple days, as she tried to understand that night with Smith, she says “The way I phrased it, ‘I had sex with someone I didn’t want to have sex with.’ It took me five days to call it rape.”

She confided in a couple of her Gamma Phi Beta sisters. They said things like, “Oh, that doesn’t sound like something Wil would do.” One sister chided her for having sex with a man who Hanson’s sorority “little sister” had a crush on. Hanson says she was also aware of what effect reporting could have on Smith’s life. 

EW contacted Smith as well as the Chi Psi fraternity and Gamma Phi sorority for comment, but did not receive a reply. 

Later that January, Hanson went to the UO’s student health center to be tested for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. She told the nurse practitioner of the assault during the confidential appointment. As Hanson  would later discover, her counseling records at the health center were less than confidential. 

Hanson started sleeping too much, dropping classes. Then she found out her sorority was planning a party with Chi Psi, Smith’s frat. “You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Hanson said. She emailed her sorority president and asked that, given what had happened to her, Gamma Phi not party with Chi Psi. 

They threw the party anyway, and Hanson was informed her email got missed. She was told to write an official letter.

 She did, and the letter made its way to the director of Greek life and then up a chain of administrators. Most UO employees, like those at other state institutions, are “mandatory reporters” and are required to inform the school if they find out about something like a rape on campus. Hanson’s story found its way to the UO’s Title IX officer Penny Daugherty.

Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. This requires that schools address the issue of sexual violence on campus. However, as Eugene attorney Jennifer Middleton points out, the only enforcement mechanism the U.S. Department of Education has when it comes to Title IX is to threaten to cut off federal funding, which simply doesn’t happen. 

Instead, some survivors turn to the courts. Most, facing disbelief, ostracism and harassment from their peers and indifference from their institutions, don’t report at all.

At first, after her assault was reported in late May of 2013, “things happened really fast,” Hanson says. She was set up with a counselor at the student health center. They met once; then the counselor left the school, promising she would set Hanson up with someone else. It didn’t happen. 

Hanson says a counselor she went to later told her that the record had been closed, “indicating I was better.”

When she tried to figure out if she should report the assault to the police, she says Title IX officer Daugherty told her no, that it was a “he-said, she-said” situation. In the aftermath, Hanson says she wishes she’d known to get a rape kit and for her blood to be tested for the “roofie,” the “date rape,” drug she suspects was dropped in her drink.

It didn’t take long for the investigation to stall. It started in May but petered out in June. The school interviewed some of Hanson’s sorority sisters … and then did nothing. A small number of people were interviewed, according to Middleton, who became Hanson’s attorney. But not the alleged perpetrator. 

As terrible as the story of Hanson’s sexual assault is, the way the school handled it — or rather, didn’t handle it — is in some ways a second assault.

Hanson stopped going to sorority events, and Gamma Phi fined her around $1,000 for not participating. It was never refunded, she says. To add insult to injury, she says, “I had to pay,” to avoid going to events with the man she says raped her. 

The delay in the investigation “by itself, was bad enough but it had the ripple effect of causing her to be ostracized by friends and community,” Middleton says. She says that showing a school has displayed “deliberate indifference” under Title IX is a big hurdle — more than lazy or not paying attention, it means a school knows what was going on and did nothing.

In Hanson’s particular case it was “egregiously bad,” Middleton says.

She says people who had been interviewed by the school knew she had pursued a sexual misconduct report against Smith, who was the president of his fraternity. Her sorority sisters, who were in contact with the frat came to the conclusion that the university had decided there was nothing to the report because it did nothing about it. She was victim-shamed by her sisters, Middleton says.

The UO eventually “did something about the rape in its own not-good-enough way,” she says of the investigation and its results, “but didn’t do enough about the hostile environment.”

Hanson says she got an email from Daugherty in July saying her sorority fines had been reimbursed. They had not been and never were. 

As time went by and the school did nothing, Hanson’s friends — the sorority that had been her community — began to believe she was “a liar and a slut,” Hanson says. In her sorority, “You make a vow to support and be loyal,” she says. “People who made that vow told me I was lying.”

UO spokeswomen Julie Brown says, “At the time in 2013, the student-conduct code allowed cases to be suspended during the summer months.” That meant the school didn’t have to investigate over the long summer break. “That source of delay has already been corrected in the student conduct code,” Brown says.

On September 17, 2013, Hanson emailed Daugherty. No response. A couple days later Hanson called her. That was when Hanson says Daugherty apologized for letting her case “slip off the radar.”

Still, Hanson says there was no response. So on Nov. 5, getting close to a year after the incident, she emailed again. Nothing.

Hanson wound up having to come back for a fifth year of school. She was “completely isolated,” she says. “It’s so much work just to be heard by them,” she says of the UO.  

Laura Hanson. Photo by Briana Cerezo.

 

The UO needs to focus on more than just rape prevention, Hanson says. It needs to change how it responds and how it treats survivors. “The shame should be on the person who committed the crime,” she says. 

Carol Stabile, a professor of women and gender studies at the UO, has been one of the school’s most vocal critics on the issue of sexual assault. Long before Hanson’s case, Stabile, along with professors Jennifer Freyd and Cheyney Ryan, had taken the school to task for mishandling rape and sexual violence on campus. She says, “Laura’s story is not that different from two other stories I know of.” 

Stabile says, “There’s no advocate on the ground who can explain the whole system.” And after seven years on campus, she says, “I still don’t understand the system, and it’s nearly impossible for a student who has been traumatized.” 

Stabile points out that critics like herself have called for the UO to halt the growth of Greek life until the school can get ahead of the problem of sexual assault, but the school is not stopping the expansion. 

Freyd, a professor of psychology, says, “That’s another place I’m so disappointed and upset about — fraternity and sorority life.” She says the UO’s Senate Task Force to Address Sexual Violence and Survivor Support, of which she and Stabile were members, had also recommended the school stop the expansion, “and they totally ignored it and, in the meantime, our data showed the risk, there was three times the risk on other parts of campus.”

Freyd is an expert on institutional betrayal — when someone, such as a student, is dependent upon an institution and that institution violates her trust by not preventing wrongdoings by other individuals within that institution, or by not supporting her afterward. 

Freyd has been advocating for and conducting campus climate surveys to assess the rates of sexual victimization and related experiences. She has critiqued the UO’s plan to use an $85,000 climate survey through the Association of American Universities, citing the lack of expertise on its advisory committee, lack of transparency and the inability to share the results for comparative analysis. A scholar who has been invited to the White House to discuss her research, Freyd offered to conduct a climate survey at the UO, but Vice President for Student Life Robin Holmes said Freyd might have “confirmation bias” in the results because of her criticisms of the UO, a comment that Freyd later called retaliatory.

The school went ahead with the AAU survey, and Freyd went ahead with hers through fundraising and money from the Center for the Study of Women in Society. Her initial survey found that that 10 percent of current female students at the UO indicated they had been raped while in college. 

Freyd later told the Senate Task Force that rape is not the word the students would use — as Hanson discovered. “They don’t want their identity to be that of the victim of a sex crime,” Freyd said to the The Oregonian. “It’s stigmatizing. And if you’re the victim of a sex crime, a lot of people will respond negatively, saying you’re at fault, shunning you.”

Another issue when it comes to sexual violence at the UO, Stabile says, is resources. There are cases where people are trying to do what’s right but lack the means to do it, she says.

Recently the school started a $20 million plan to build and rebrand its academic reputation. The numbers the UO has put out as part of its plans to battle sexual violence on campus pale in comparison: $15,000 for an emergency fund to support survivors and another $90,000 in additional resources to support prevention and education staffing. It also added several new staffing positions focused on sexual violence response and investigation, it increased funding for a pilot program of a women’s self-defense training program for the academic term and the school increased funding to expand the highly successful Sexual Wellness Awareness Training (SWAT) program, according to Brown. But the money being spent is in the thousands versus millions.

In addition to the problem of resources, Stabile says, “There are some problematic people and a real lack of willingness to address the personnel problem.” 

Ryan, who in addition to teaching conflict resolution at the UO is a visiting fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict, has even harsher words about personnel at the UO — specifically for the school Daugherty and Robin Holmes. 

“The reality is Robin Holmes and Penny Daugherty have to be fired if the university is going to move forward on this,” Ryan says. “If they did that, it would be acknowledging things weren’t handled right.”

When EW asked the UO for comment on these specific criticisms, Brown said an interview with Daugherty and Holmes was not possible. She responded via email saying, “Robin Holmes and Penny Daugherty are two of the many dedicated professionals at the university who work tirelessly on behalf of students and employees, especially for those navigating the complicated and emotionally challenging issues surrounding sexual violence.”

Brown also says the UO plans to increase the university’s capacity to investigate sexual misconduct by adding investigative staff as well as designating two new Title IX deputy officers.

 

 

Hanson was a student in Ryan’s conflict resolution class when she responded to a midterm essay prompt with the story of what had happened with Wil Smith that night and the way the school was responding. 

“It was immediately clear it was a serious case,” Ryan says. 

He talked to her about it the day he got her essay, “and, as I recall, the thing that concerned me most was that the university, from what I could tell, had done nothing to address the fact she was in a position to have contact with that man, and that was a serious failure.”

Ryan says he went over Daugherty’s head to Vice President for Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt, “and I said this is a very serious case and the university has behaved very inappropriately here.”

Hanson got a call the next day. 

“It was horrible, actually,” Ryan says of having to go over the Title IX officer’s head, because “it was clear that Jamie had told them to take it seriously, as they usually did not.”

Ryan also suggested Hanson contact attorney Jennifer Middleton and she did.

Hanson says of the UO, “I expected to be treated with respect. I expected to be treated fairly.”

Finally in January of 2014, a year after the night Hanson says she was raped, she received a letter from Chicora Martin, then-assistant dean of students, informing her that the school had found Smith “responsible for sexual misconduct as defined in the Student Conduct Code.”

According to the UO’s student code sexual misconduct means: “Unwanted Penetration is Penetration of another person, or causing the Penetration of another person, when one: (A) Does not first obtain Explicit Consent from that person; or B) Knows or should have known the person was incapable of consent by reason of Mental Disorder, Mental Incapacitation, or Physical Helplessness.”

Hanson says she was told Smith admitted to having sex with her, but, “He said I had asked for it, and it was consensual.” 

After waiting so long to get a result in her case, Hanson was further dismayed to see that the first version of the letter she received named her as the perpetrator, not Smith. That was corrected. 

Smith was given three requirements: He could have no contact with Hanson, he was put on disciplinary probation until graduation and he had to keep a “Sexual Misconduct Journal: a five-part educational activity that encourages education and reflection on topics around this violation.”

Stabile, one of the many critics of using a journal in these cases, calls it reducing “sexual assault to some creepy assignment” and asks, “Who reads them? Who decides if it worked?” She adds that she imagines hearing the perpetrators laughing about it and saying to one another, “I had to write some corny essay.”

Brown says that the work is taken seriously and shows that the student has learned from the assignment. She says the UO no longer uses a journal as an activity for those found responsible for sexual misconduct.

“I’ve given them so many opportunities to right what they did to me,” Hanson says of her struggle to get the UO to deal with her case. “I’m having to fight an uphill battle just to get truth and respect.”

 

 

In August of 2014, Laura Hanson filed an intent to assert claims against the UO under Title IX stemming from the January 2013 incident. According to the settlement, signed by Hanson and UO Interim General Counsel Douglas Park, Hanson alleges, and the school acknowledges, a delay in initiation of student conduct proceedings. The settlement was for $30,000, the same amount Hanson says another rape survivor she knows in Colorado settled for — that going rate for rape.

Jennifer Middleton says that while she was speaking to the UO’s outside counsel on the case, the other attorney “informed me she had a copy of Laura’s records.” Middleton thought she had all Hanson’s counseling center records but, “the UO told me they had the records, that surprised me,” she says, “both because I thought I had the records, and because she had them.” 

For Middleton to get the records, Hanson had to sign a FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) release, but the UO got those records without asking Hanson for a release.

This is the second time the UO seems to have simply taken a student’s counseling records, leading to the question of whether the school has a pattern and practice of doing so in these cases. The first known incident was that of the basketball rape survivor, and when that was made public, in addition to the UO’s decision to countersue the survivor, the backlash was intense, locally and across the country. 

Middleton says that even in the context of a lawsuit, the normal route by which the school would have gotten the records would be to formally ask, and the plaintiff’s lawyer would have a chance to say what’s relevant and ask a judge to redact certain items. 

She says how UO got Hanson’s records is “not identical” to the basketball case, “but to the extent the UO claims when there’s some sort of legal action, they are entitled to help themselves, it’s similar in that way.”

Middleton says, “There are a lot of detailed and not entirely clear exceptions to FERPA” that the UO is drawing upon in accessing the counseling records.

UO spokeswoman Brown responds that “confidential counseling records would never be accessed by any UO personnel, unless it was (1) lawful for the employee to access the records, and (2) necessary to access the records in order for the employee to do his or her job.”

Jennifer Morlok, a UO counseling center senior staff therapist, filed complaints earlier this year about the alleged mishandling of the counseling records, The Oregonian reported. Holmes,  who is a former director of the counseling center, and three other UO employees are under investigation by the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners for allegedly mishandling the basketball rape survivor’s counseling records. When asked for the status of the complaints, Charles Hill, the board’s executive director, tells EW the board “may not respond to questions that ask the board to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, or to respond to any related specific questions.”  

Kateri Walsh of the Oregon State Bar says it is doing an initial screening to determine if a complaint against UO attorneys Douglas Park and Samantha Hill over the records should be forwarded to Disciplinary Counsel’s Office for more formal investigation.

On May 26, Jen Gomez, a UO doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, also sent a letter to Oregon’s Board of Psychologist Examiners saying that in addition to specific codes of conduct, the UO psychologists “violated all five ethical principles that govern the psychology profession” and asked the matter be dealt with. 

Brenda Tracy. Photo by Todd Cooper.

 

Hanson is using the money from the settlement to pay for the extra year of school that she needed after the assault. She also had to pay off those fines from her sorority because she stopped attending events out of fear she would run into the man she says assaulted her while she was unconscious. 

But now Hanson has gone from almost dropping out of school in the wake of the sexual assault, to speaking out, to contacting and interviewing other survivors and turning her desire for change into an honors thesis and writing a book on sexual assault on U.S. college campuses. 

Hanson is clear — she didn’t settle with the UO out of fear or because she didn’t think she could win a case. She settled because she wants “to help survivors in a better way,” and she hopes to do that with her nearly completed book manuscript for which she has an agent.

No rape case is the same, but across time and space, many of them have similarities  — the institutional betrayal survivors experience, the fact that year after year the patterns continue and that schools put the needs of sports teams and Greek life above those who have been assaulted.

After the basketball rape scandal at the UO made headlines last year, Kelly Goodman told EW that she was raped in 2001 by a UO football player who went on to play in the NFL while her “life got shoved back six or seven years.” Goodman did report to the police but the district attorney did not file charges. As in so many other cases, Goodman says she was pressured not to report and victim-blamed. 

In 1998 a woman named Brenda Tracy alleged she was gang-raped by four men, two of them Oregon State football players, at a Corvallis apartment. She filed charges, but dropped them because like Hanson, she was told it would be a “he-said, she-said” case. She wasn’t told the men had confessed. 

 Though she wasn’t a student, she later turned to OSU “wanting to have some sort of justice” and because “I wanted to make sure no one else was hurt by them.” The players got a one-game suspension and community service hours. Tracy then retreated to a life of shame and says she pretended it never happened.

 OSU has since apologized to Tracy, and, like Hanson, she is taking action to change the system in Oregon that has allowed the assaults to continue.

Tracy recently came to the UO campus at the invitation of the school’s Intercollegiate Athletics Committee to talk about her experience and what she is doing to affect change. 

“It’s sad to me because this is still happening today,” Tracy says. She says schools worry more about their reputations and donors than they do about victims. 

The UO has examined the recommendations of both the Senate Task Force as well as that of the Presidential Review Panel on the school’s response to sexual misconduct and according to a long list of more than 20 recommendations, the school has either accepted, is already doing or has completed the recommendations. 

The last one, “ensure prompt responses” is marked as “existing practice.”

Stabile acknowledges the UO seems to be attempting to make changes, such as posting sanctions against fraternities and sororities online, but she says, more than six months after the Senate Task Force made its recommendations they remain “stuck in some administrative limbo.”

Will the school accept the advice of survivors such as Tracy and Hanson on how to best aid rape survivors and change its broken system? Brown says, “The university is exploring all aspects of sexual violence prevention and response education for campus, including bystander intervention, firsthand experiences and others.”

Portland attorney Jackie Swanson has been working with Brenda Tracy on her case and getting the statue of limitations on sexual assaults in Oregon changed from six years — one of the lowest in the nation — to 12. She says she has talked to Sen. Jeff Merkely and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and set up times with Sen. Ron Wyden to talk about amending laws relating to sexual violence on campus on the federal level.

Swanson explains that FERPA defines counseling records as educational records, and unlike HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), FERPA is like “cheese cloth” when it comes to protecting student privacy. 

 “That’s really the crux of the issue,” she says. “The law should be changed and students entitled to the confidentiality of their records.” 

She says she is also looking into the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law that, like Title IX, applies to schools getting federal funding. Clery requires reports of alleged crimes on and around campus to be made and sent out but its boundaries are limited.

 “I think the main thing we are looking at is expanding the perimeters,” Swanson says, “who the Clery Act applies to and expanding out to more of a mile radius around the school.” 

Title IX is “a wonderful law in a lot of ways, but there are flaws in its enforcement,” Swanson says. 

Tracy is also working to pass several bills dealing with campus sexual assault in the Oregon Legislature this session: In addition to HB 2317, which would extend the statute of limitations and thus affect non-campus-related sexual assaults, another bill, SB 759, would require that universities provide easy-to-read, written information to sexual assault victims regarding their rights. 

And on May 26, the Oregon Senate passed HB 3476, which would allow counselors, therapists and other victim’s advocates to bypass mandatory reporting requirements under Title IX if a student doesn’t want to take immediate formal action. It would also prevent a university like the UO from accessing a student’s therapy records unless a student was suing the school about the therapy or counseling he or she received. The bill passed in the House in April and now awaits Gov. Kate Brown’s signature.

Annie Clark, a rape survivor and activist who appears in the acclaimed documentary on campus rape, The Hunting Ground, came to Oregon in May to speak in favor of extending the statute of limitations on rape cases. She says documentaries and books, such as the one Hanson is writing, as well as media attention are bringing sexual assault to cultural attention, but “the trend is still to being very reactive on college campuses.” She says schools aren’t doing anything until there’s a lawsuit, and adds, “We’ve yet to see a college step up and be a leader.”

Hanson’s case might be settled, but her goals to change the UO’s patterns of dealing with survivors are ongoing. As part of her settlement, Hanson came back to Eugene and met with Holmes and Daugherty, hoping for answers and some closure. 

Afterward Hanson called the meeting “completely disrespectful.” 

After everything that had happened, she says the women didn’t care enough to look up her case, or even know she had graduated. She says the school has not contacted her about her offer to help it in its dealing with survivors. “It’s not their fault I was raped,” she says of the school, but “the UO as a place doesn’t care.”

 

Note: Attorney Jennifer Middleton works at Johnson, Johnson and Schaller, the firm of EW co-owner Art Johnson.

 

Web Extra

For a list of sexual assault resources please see the bottom of our story "Fighting  a Rape Culture." In Lane County, Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) is a highly recommended resource: sass-lane.org 541-343-7277. Nationally, the Rape, Incest & Abuse National Network (RAINN) has a national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE and resources at rainn.org.

For survivors interested in participating in Laura Hanson's book project, please email sasurvivorstories@gmail.com