FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 9, 2014
Addressing sexual violence on campus has been a hot topic across the nation and locally. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released their first report, Not Alone, at the end of April. Although the University of Oregon has taken steps to address this issue, such as creating a Sexual Violence Response & Support Services Coordinator position, a new website on preventing and reporting sexual violence, and a new Violence Response Team at the UO counseling center, they can do better.
The University can and must do more to support survivors and create a safe environment. As the White House Task Force’s report points out “[s]chools should identify trained, confidential victim advocates who can provide emergency and ongoing support.” Students should have access to confidential support and individuals who will put the needs of survivors first and foremost. While the new University position plays an important role in supporting survivors and creating change on campus, it is not a confidential resource for survivors. In fact, currently the only confidential people on campus are those who have legal privilege, such as counselors in the University Counseling and Testing Center.
The White House report also recognizes the importance of having services available 24 hours a day as well as advocates who can accompany survivors to medical and legal appointments. While campus staff can support survivors within the university system, there are many resources available outside of the university that should be made available to survivors. Given that it is estimated that one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, and the UO has approximately 25,000 students enrolled, it is fair to estimate that approximately 5,000 students will experience sexual violence during their time at UO. It is not reasonable to assume that one or even two staff positions can effectively respond to this level of need 24 hours a day and support students in accessing all of the medical, legal, and other services available off campus to survivors.
The Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO) has contracted with Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) for over 10 years to provide free, confidential support and advocacy services to students who experience sexual violence. This is a critical component of the University’s response and support system, as SASS advocates are independent of the University system and all services are free and confidential. Unfortunately, due to legal concerns the UO administration had about a campus-specific position proposed and approved by the students, the ASUO contract with SASS for the 2013-2014 school year was held up for over 10 months, which has seriously impacted our ability to provide the services that the students wanted and needed. Again, the White House Task Force recognizes that reimbursing rape crisis centers for their services is a best practice, and we applaud the ASUO for implementing this practice long before this report. We hope that the contract for the 2014-2015 school year that the students approved will not face similar delays.
It is also our hope that the University would include SASS on their independent panel that will be reviewing the campus climate and making recommendations. SASS staff have an understanding of the larger systems within the community as well as access to information and resources about best and emerging practices for responding to survivors of sexual violence. If the University truly wants to support survivors and create change, it is important for SASS to be part of this process.
Sexual Assault Support Services has served survivors in Lane County since 1991. SASS’ services include a 24-hour crisis and support line, drop-in advocacy and support, medical and legal accompaniment and advocacy, support groups, and outreach and education.
For more information, contact:
BB Beltran, Executive Director, at 541-484-9791.