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In the national spotlight

The Ashland Police Department’s “You Have Options Program” is garnering federal attention from the nation’s Department of Defense.

In late February, APD Detective Carrie Hull was invited to Washington, D.C. by the Pentagon to sit on a panel of experts speaking at a daylong sexual assault response training for military leaders. The panel consisted of representatives for other sexual assault response programs in the civilian sector.

Hull, founder and administrator of the You Have Options program in Ashland, which has come in a short time to serve as a nationwide model, was asked to speak about APD’s experiences in developing and implementing the victim-centered reporting program.

“The whole subject of response to sexual assault in the military and on campuses has been getting a lot of attention from Congress. They are looking not just at our program, but at a variety of other programs nationwide that could be used as models,” said Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner.

This is not the first time the military has reached out to the APD about the You Have Options program. APD’s first official contact with the military came in December 2013, when the police department was asked to send a representative to Austin, Texas, to testify before a congressional committee for improving the military’s response to sexual assault, said APD Chief Terry Holderness.

Hull’s most recent visit to D.C. came in the wake of the Defense Department’s strides to improve how the military handles reports of sexual assault. The DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is working with the armed services as well as the civilian community to develop and implement prevention and response programs. Hull, since she signed a nondisclosure agreement form, declined to comment further on any of her work with the military for this story.

Rates of unwanted sexual contact at the military service academies declined in 2014, according to a report released Feb. 11 by the Pentagon. The congressionally mandated Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies indicates that while nearly 200 fewer sexual assaults occurred at the academies in 2014 than in 2012, rates of reporting have increased.

The report was accompanied by the Secretary of State’s five initiatives to improve sexual assault and prevention programs in the military service academies. One major directive is to improve sexual assault reporting.

APD’s You Have Options program is intended to increase reports of sexual assault so that offenders may be prosecuted and prevented from committing future offenses. The program offers sexual violence victims a safe and flexible platform for anonymous reporting. Throughout the reporting process, victims control who is contacted during the investigation and when to proceed with charges if they decide to do so.

“It truly does appear to increase the number of people who are willing to come forward to tell us that they’ve been sexually assaulted. Nationally only a small percent of people who have been sexually assaulted ever come forward to report to police. This is a way of improving that because if people won’t report, then we can’t do anything else,” said Holderness.

In addition to attention from the military, Holderness says the federal government has shown interest in promoting the program on university campuses.

Hull was invited to D.C. last year to meet with U.S. senators and a presidential adviser and to sit on a congressional experts panel to discuss how the program could be implemented on college campuses.

The program is changing the way campuses respond to incidents of sexual assault by providing victims with alternatives to Title IX reporting.

While Title IX is a federal law used to ensure equal educational opportunities and combat campus violence in federally funded schools, it does not ensure victim confidentiality. Title IX investigations are administrative and take place outside of the criminal justice system.

Since Southern Oregon University adopted the program in 2013, there has been a 106 percent increase in reported incidents of sexual misconduct, according to SOU’s Campus Report on Sexual Misconduct.

Beyond Oregon, the Brighton Police Department in Colorado began working with APD in 2013, and is now the first You Have Options certified law enforcement agency outside of Ashland.

APD presents the program all over the country. Holderness recalls a busy period in late December last year when he was in D.C., Hull was in Florida, and Corey Falls, former deputy chief and now county sheriff, was in Texas speaking about the program.

In October 2014, APD held the first introductory session for the You Have Options program here in Ashland, drawing an audience of law enforcement agencies from Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, California and Washington.

Implementing the program requires extensive training, so when APD presents the program, Holderness said they inform agencies that are not ready for full implementation to consider using the specific areas that work for them.

“We’re moving the program forward every day,” said Holderness, who hopes to identify and provide enough resources to assist Hull, the only person dedicated to the program full-time.

Currently funded by the APD budget and grant assistance from the federal Violence Against Women Act, APD is also looking for other funding sources that will help the program expand regionally.

The program has the ability to generate some of its own income through training and implementation fees, said Holderness. Some money will be added to the pot this week when APD hosts a class on Forensic Experiential Trauma Interviewing — a methodology developed by the military and used in the You Have Options Program.

“The program has brought a lot of positive attention to Ashland and to the APD, and has strengthened our reputation as a progressive community that looks for innovative solutions to long standing problems,” said Kanner.

Ashland Police Detective Carrie Hull testifies before a U.S. Senate roundtable meeting in 2014 on handling of sexual assault reports. She spoke at the Pentagon last month. Photo from CSPAN video