sexual assault

Portland college students demand changes in sexual assault process

A student member of Reed College’s Judicial Board has resigned over the school’s handling of sexual assault, and her public appeal to students and faculty to think critically about how the college is adjudicating sex crimes has inspired weeks of debate on the campus, likely to be central to a student forum April 4.

Isabel Manley served three semesters on the private Portland college’s Judicial Board. She offered a personal critique of Reed’s handling of sexual assault in a letter in the school newspaper The Quest Feb. 11, in which she resigned.

Manley’s resignation has stirred discussion on campus, subsequent letters to The Quest - including a formal response from faculty - and also prompted a group of 20 students identifying themselves as sexual assault survivors to issue a nine-point “manifesto” on sexual assault, outlining lapses in the college’s goal of providing resources to victims and offering solutions.

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Campus sexual assault: Does 'honor code' system squelch justice at Oregon school?

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Three young women tell similar stories of being discouraged from calling police after reporting sexual assault to Reed College authorities, and of a campus investigatory process so intensely secretive one student was unsure she could even talk to her parents about it. The students’ allegations were not vetted by trained investigators or faculty, but by a student board without expertise in sexual assault.

Former Reed administrator Lisa Moore, a licensed social worker, confirms she took one of the students to the health center when she came to her crying and saying she had been raped by a former boyfriend in January of 2009, but did not know the student was later turned away without an appointment. Moore has since left Reed and now works at Boston University, in part because of her inability to change the Reed system. None of the recommendations of a sexual assault task force she assembled has been implemented, she said.

Two outside experts in how colleges handle sexual assaults criticized the system used by 1,400-student Reed, a highly secretive process based on a student Honor Code and enforced by a student Judicial Board, in which students act as a fact-finding committee and participants are barred from discussing their cases with anyone except a designated advocate, a procedural aide and medical professionals.

Athletic club weekend turns into nightmare for college freshman

Emily Lorenzen knows her story of being sexually assaulted is a difficult one for people to hear. The petite 22-year-old isn’t bothered. She knows her listeners don’t know what to say.

But they need to hear her words. It’s a story that has helped remake Oregon’s response to sexual assault on public university campuses and could galvanize reform at other colleges and universities throughout the Northwest.

Lorenzen’s father is a former president of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, and the chair of a subcommittee slated with retooling policy on how state schools respond to assault. In addition to strengthening state schools’ definition of sexual assault, the Oregon subcommittee is looking at tougher discipline for students who commit sexual assault, and widening school jurisdictions to handle assaults that take place off campus.

A dad first, Henry Lorenzen is motivated. Four years after his daughter reported being raped while a student at the University of California at Berkeley, Lorenzen doesn’t want what happened to her to happen to students in Oregon or elsewhere. And it isn’t only the thought of the rape that haunts him. It’s what he sees as the lackluster investigation, the lack of sympathy, the lack of resources, and the disbelief with which Berkeley officials greeted his daughter that most trouble him.

Berkeley officials say they are not indifferent to sexual assault, citing a range of campus programs intended to support rape victims.

Arguing for a firmer definition of campus sexual assault at a Board of Higher Education meeting on Dec. 22, Henry Lorenzen blows the bureaucratic slumber out of the room. When he says that his daughter was raped at college, people stop shuffling papers. They look up. They sit straighter. They listen.

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Overwhelmed and unsure, victims often delay seeking help

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Lila Hobbs was a 20-year-old sophomore in 2007 when she reported having been sexually assaulted by a fellow student at Gonzaga University in Spokane Stunned, and feeling overwhelmed, Hobbs kept silent for a month. Finally, she sought counseling and decided to pursue justice through the school’s internal judiciary committee. 

Like Hobbs, Stephanie S., who asked that her last name not be used, was just embarking on her college career in 2001 when she, too, reported a sexual assault, this one in a dorm room at the hands of a University of Washington athlete she had casually dated for a few months. Like Hobbs, Stephanie also kept quiet at first, scared and unsure where to turn for help. After confiding to a coach about six months later, she sought recourse through the school.

Although their cases happened on separate campuses, separated by half a dozen years, the outcomes were similar, reflecting what often happens on college campuses across the country when students claim sexual assaults by other students.

Both women say the schools’ handling of their cases compounded their trauma. Both point to insensitive handling that ranged from inappropriate questioning to, in Stephanie’s case, being required to go through mediation and sitting next to the man she’d accused. Discipline for the alleged perpetrators was light or nonexistent. The experience left both of them angered that students who suffer sexual assaults by other students are often left to bear the emotional, physical and financial consequences, while those responsible for their anguish walk away.

Sexual violence on campus: not just a crime of men against women

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Barriers to reporting sexual assault in same gender cases even higher

Sexual assault crosses all barriers, gender included, and same-gender assaults are not uncommon on college campuses, experts say, but the obstacles to reporting are even greater.