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MailTribune.com
  • Our Opinion: Ashland leads the way

    Police department's 'options' model has increased reports of on-campus assaults
  • A conflict between the federal Title IX law and an innovative Ashland Police Department rape-reporting program hasn't blocked the program from having great success here, but it can't be implemented at many other campuses unless Congress agrees to make changes in Title IX. Those changes should be pursued, because Southern Oregon University's experience shows the new approach works.
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  • A conflict between the federal Title IX law and an innovative Ashland Police Department rape-reporting program hasn't blocked the program from having great success here, but it can't be implemented at many other campuses unless Congress agrees to make changes in Title IX. Those changes should be pursued, because Southern Oregon University's experience shows the new approach works.
    The APD model, called You Have Options, lets women on campus report alleged sexual assaults on their own terms and at their own pace. Victims may choose to remain anonymous, and may opt to provide information only or to initiate a full investigation.
    Forensic evidence can be collected and then held until the victim decides to proceed. In most cases, police say, an arrest or a referral for prosecution won't occur without the victim's consent.
    In many college towns, that approach would collide head-on with Title IX, the venerable federal law that required colleges to provide equal opportunities to female athletes and outlawed gender discrimination. Under Title IX rules governing investigations, sexual assault suspects are informed of the allegations, victims are not guaranteed confidentiality and investigations proceed rapidly.
    Sexual assault is widely under-reported, especially on college campuses, because victims fear disclosure when the perpetrator may be among their circle of friends.
    Ashland police are able to use the You Have Options model because SOU does not have its own police force with investigative powers as larger universities do. A campus police force is required to report to Title IX administrators, who are bound to follow the federal rules.
    APD has been careful not to share too much information with SOU officials to avoid that problem, and SOU officials say they have hired a case manager for at-risk students who is not bound by the federal rules.
    The result: sexual assault reports are up 109 percent since You Have Options was implemented in 2010. That doesn't mean more assaults are occurring; it means victims are more comfortable reporting incidents they otherwise would not.
    U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is working on changes to Title IX to accommodate an approach similar to the one developed in Ashland. Those changes deserve rapid consideration and bipartisan support.
    Congratulations to Ashland police for developing the You Have Options approach and to SOU officials for doing what they can to facilitate the model. As it becomes the accepted standard on campus, offenders who have taken advantage of the lack of reporting should increasingly get the message that they can no longer depend on a culture of silence.
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