At the University of Oregon, if a student is sexually assaulted and tells her or his instructor, then the professor or graduate teaching fellow must report what happened, whether or not the student wants it reported. This is required reporting, also known as mandatory reporting. Reports go to the UO’s Title IX coordinator.
The UO's University Senate voted May 18 on new required reporting rules, with proposed rules narrowly defeated.
For some, required reporting is the best way to handle discrimination and harassment. Others, such as UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd, UO alum and rape survivor Laura Hanson and Oregon State rape survivor Brenda Tracy, say mandatory reporting can cause more harm than good.
Under Oregon law, workers in “certain professions” are mandatory reporters of child abuse, and according to the UO, “Oregon law requires that all university employees with credible evidence that any form of prohibited discrimination by or against students, faculty or staff is occurring have a duty to report that information.”
Sexual harassment and assault are considered “prohibited discrimination.” But just how that reporting should be done is at the center of a heated debate.
Hanson was unable to leave her job in Portland to come and testify against the required reporting policy, but she sent a statement to be read by Freyd at the meeting.
Hanson writes, “In January 2013, I was roofied and raped by the president of Chi Psi at the University of Oregon. You should already be familiar with how poorly the UO handled my rape report, given that the decisions you’re making will directly affect my fellow survivors.”
The fraternity president was found guilty of sexual misconduct under the student code, though not until after the UO forgot to pursue her case for several months, took her counseling records without her consent and created a situation where, on top of being sexually assaulted, she was ostracized by her peers and traumatized by the school’s inept handling of her case.
“From my perspective, the UO shouldn’t be making these huge policy changes/statements without having a system in place to thoughtfully and effectively resolve the rape complaints received,” Hanson continues.
She tells EW that mandatory reporting “puts adults in a position they would not normally be in. As an adult you don’t expect decisions to be taken away from you, especially in a situation where you are already vulnerable.”
Hanson has repeatedly offered to partner with the UO in repairing its system of dealing with sexual assaults — between her case and that of a young woman who says she was gang raped by three UO basketball players, the school has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in settling allegations it has mishandled the cases — the UO has rebuffed her offer.
Brenda Tracy also testified against required reporting. In the fall of 2014 she went public with her story of four men, three of them football players, raping her at an apartment near OSU in 1998. OSU apologized and reached out to her to help the school protect rape victims.
When it comes to mandatory reporting, Tracy, like Hanson, say she feels college students can make informed decisions, as opposed to vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly or those with certain disabilities. “It’s scary to come forward and use your voice, and it doesn’t turn out well for everyone,” she said after tearful testimony before the Faculty Senate.
Tracy says that as an outsider looking in, she thinks OSU is clearer than the UO about who is a mandatory reporter and who is not. OSU’s document on “How to Help a Survivor” says employees should “inform the survivor of your responsibility to consult with the Office of Equity and Inclusion.” Hanson agrees that the UO’s policies and materials for dealing with sexual assault remain unclear.
UO professor and University Committee on Sexual and Gender Based Violence co-chair Carole Stabile spoke before the Senate on May 11 when the “responsible employee policy” was first brought up by the committee. She said the mandatory reporting policy that came out under former UO president Michael Gottfredson at the time of basketball sexual assault scandal was unclear.
Under the revised policy, Stabile said, survivors have options, such as disclosing to confidential reporters such as counselors.
With regard to the concerns raised by Freyd and others, the committee writes in its rationale that it “recognizes that there are serious arguments raised in opposition to this policy, especially with regard to its potential for discouraging some survivors of sexual violence from seeking confidential assistance.”
It continues, “However, the committee believes, given the substantial resources recently deployed in support of survivors of sexual violence, and the reasonable protections instituted by the university so that survivors continue to control the process of healing and resolution, that it is imperative that such survivors avail themselves of these resources.”
Freyd tells EW, “This is a human rights issue, and I have faith that in time we will all understand it that way. For me I fight this locally and nationally. It may take awhile but I think with effort this movement will succeed — as human rights movements tend to do eventually — and in the meantime I will not make bargains that sell my integrity for political expediency.”
Freyd says at least six universities do not require all faculty to be required reporters. The motion was voted down 16-15 on May 18, and Freyd writes in a note to other faculty, students and community members: “My understanding is that President [Michael] Schill will institute the failed policy as an emergency policy — so in that way our vote did not stop it — but since he will have to do this as an emergency policy it can only last six months and so the Senate needs to propose and pass a permanent policy in that time frame.”
Hanson concludes in her statement to the University Senate, “I am a public survivor because the UO’s mandatory reporting policy made me one. Survivors should be empowered and supported by their university community, not have their agency taken from them by the very community they trust.”
Freyd has put together a resource page opposing required reporting at bit.ly/1Uc48Zl.