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SOU's Campus Choice presented to U.S. Senate

Southern Oregon University representative Angela Fleischer testified in Washington, D.C., last week at a U.S. Senate hearing on the role of law enforcement in campus sexual assaults.

Fleischer, SOU’s assistant director of student support and intervention for confidential advising, was one of three panelists to present at the hearing, held Dec. 9 by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. The other panelists were Chief Kathy Zoner, a 23-year veteran of the Cornell University Police, and Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One, formerly the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center of Rhode Island.

About eight U.S. senators were present to gather information for the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), a bipartisan bill proposed by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and co-sponsored by 17 senators, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. The bill, which will go before Congress early next year, would force colleges and universities to take additional measures to protect their students, root out sexual predators and collaborate with law enforcement, among other things.

“The last few years have shed light on just how pervasive (sexual violence) has become with some estimates suggesting that as many as one in five women may experience sexual violence in college,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

“Reports of sex offenses on college campuses rose 50 percent from 2009 to 2012, according to federal data,” Whitehouse added. “And the vast majority of offenses — up to 90 percent — are believed to go unreported.”

Although relatively new, SOU’s Campus Choice and Ashland Police Department’s You Have Options programs have garnered national attention and the praise of several senators, and prompted Fleischer’s invitation to D.C. Elements of both programs have been written into preliminary drafts of the CASA.

In most situations, Fleischer explained, the victim doesn't know where to go for help or is encouraged to “move on” or begin the campus administrative process. Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the school is obliged to respond and complete the investigation within 60 days.

“If the administrative process moves forward, and the accused is found responsible, they may be expelled — often to move on to another school where, because academic records are protected, they are free to offend again,” Fleischer said at the hearing.

If police are involved, their investigation may be hindered by the school’s actions, such as cleaning up the crime scene and confronting the accused.

Many victims are overwhelmed by the stressful, complicated and time-consuming process and, therefore, sweep their stories under the rug.

Recognizing some of these barriers, Ashand Detective Carrie Hull developed the You Have Options program, allowing victims to share as much as or as little information as they want and decide the course and timeline of the investigation, explained Susan Moen, executive director of the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team.

The program was so successful — doubling the number of sexual assaults being reported — that other agencies and researchers began to express an interest.

In October, 75 people from 17 agencies in six states attended APD’s first You Have Options training, said Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness. Six more trainings are scheduled for next year, including one in Denver, one in Houston and one in Miami, and sponsored by the host agencies.

Fleischer was involved in the development of the program and, last year, used her knowledge of the campus administrative and law enforcement systems to create the Campus Choice program.

Through this program, victims can meet with a confidential adviser, like Fleischer, to gather information about the college administrative and criminal justice processes before deciding whether and to what extent they wish to proceed. Fleischer — like the school's head of the Women’s Resource Center, head of the Queer Resource Center and campus health professionals — is exempt from the Title IX reporting process so as not to trigger the 60-day mandatory response.

Under both the Campus Choice and You Have Options programs, confidential advisers and detectives utilize the forensic experiential trauma interview method, which puts less pressure on the victim and elicits better trauma memory recall, Fleischer said.

Unlike the rapid-fire police questioning, this approach includes sensory questions and may begin with a statement such as “Tell me about what happened to you,” Fleischer said.

Since SOU and Ashland police began coordinating their efforts, 76 percent of the crime-related cases coming through confidential advising involves interaction with law enforcement.

“By utilizing specially-trained individuals in the response to reports of sexual assaults, survivors are given access to accurate complete information and options, and communities become safer as we learn to identify the offenders within, most of whom will continue to commit sexual offences if left unidentified,” Fleischer said at the hearing.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Angela Fleischer