Oregon State University has generated positive press in recent years following forward movements in addressing campus sexual assault and survivor support services. A Huffington Post article from April of last year suggested that the university was “doing better than any other school in the country.”
This is a different story.
After several months of investigation, and correspondence with student survivors, The Advocate has gained insight into a structure at OSU that seemingly herds victims toward confidential offices devoid of anonymous reporting practices, which generates inaccurate statistics reflected in OSU’s annual safety report. These statistics publicly represent OSU in campus sexual assault, and presumably help allocate funds for services and resources.
2016 graduate and sexual assault survivor, Kathleen Case came forward to us to tell her story, which sheds light on further trends of systematic neglect at OSU, along with a cultural misinterpretation of consent and assault, and the behaviors that underlie their meanings.
When a survivor’s story ends in them telling it – when they’re not counted, even anonymously, among the ranks of those coming forward, regardless of criminal pursuit – then how are they rightfully represented by an institution? How many survivors lie behind the veil?
OSU has progressed toward survivor-friendly resources and sexual education, however there are still systematic voids, and operators that are accountable for contributing to local and nationwide gaps, and for those who’ve felt unsupported, unsafe, and unheard while in their care.
OSU’s 2017 Annual Security Report indicates that there were six counts of on-campus rape each year from 2014 to 2016. Reports of non-campus rapes totaled two in 2014, 10 in 2015, and eight in 2016. These statistics were determined within a set geography surrounding OSU, in federal compliance with the Clery Act.
When choosing to report a sexual assault, a person is most often referred to OSU’s Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center, which opened in 2015 to provide confidential support and advocacy to victims of sexual assault.
OSU intends SARC to be a survivor’s “first point of contact for a confidential disclosure of sexual and intimate partner violence,” as stated in the Clery report.
Given the confidential status of SARC services, “crime statistics are not provided for the Annual Security Report.”
“Additionally,” states the safety report, “Oregon State University does not have established procedures to encourage pastoral or professional counselors to inform [survivors] to report crimes on a voluntary, confidential basis for inclusion in the Annual Security Report.”
Unless reporting to legal authorities, students with claims of sexual assault are kept completely confidential. Meaning there is zero trace of them in data made publicly available by OSU.
When questioned on the number of persons reporting claims of sexual assault to SARC, Vice President of University Relations and Marketing, Steve Clark referred back to the Clery report, stating, “SARC keeps confidential records and does not disclose any information about people seen by SARC advocates. This information is not provided to any campus departments in order to protect the privacy of the individuals seen by SARC.”
According to the safety report, claimants have the option of anonymously reporting to an Accountability and Integrity Hotline, which “provides aggregate crime statistics for inclusion in the Annual Security Report.”
The Advocate only learned of this hotline after careful examination of the Clery report. It was never mentioned as a resource during any interviews with OSU executives, nor referred to by the disgruntled survivors that came forward.
Outside OSU services is a general hesitance in reporting. Most victims either fear retaliation and re-traumatization in telling their stories, or feel a general mistrust in the justice system. And they’re not wrong. Nationally, one third of sexual assaults are reported, and for every 1,000 reported rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free – according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network statistics.
Open Eyes, In A Sea of Survivors
While the Huffington Post was crediting OSU as potentially the best campus in the country due to strides in sexual assault, senior student Kathleen Case was being shut out by the offices at OSU investigating her report of being sexually assaulted, over a course of 13 hours one long night that February.
Case was one in the crowd of over 700 supporters the Huffington Post says attended that year’s Take Back the Night march and rally in April – an annual event bringing survivors, advocates, and supporters together in an effort to end campus violence and sexual assault.
2016 saw a massive growth in attendance, compared with the average 40 to 50 attending years prior. Surely, support and awareness at OSU was spreading.
Case was working the event. She was involved in many campus advocacy groups and centers as a student at OSU, majoring in public health with an emphasis in sexual violence. She has a personal, traumatic history with assault, having been sexually violated various times at OSU and elsewhere.
With the incident in February fresh in her mind, Case shared some of her story at Take Back the Night, along with other survivors.
OSU President Ed Ray also took the stand.
“(He) talked about Oregon State’s commitment to survivors, and how important it was to him that they got the justice that they deserved and that they felt heard,” Case recalls.
“So, in my head I’m like, okay, well here’s this guy who’s just made this very public statement and I’m starting to feel very frustrated.”
Case was frustrated because it had been since February, when she first reported her assault to EOA Equity Associate, Hope Brian, and SARC Associate Director, Judy Neighbours, that she’d heard anything about the investigation – despite repeated attempts at contact.
“I emailed [Brian] at least once a week, if not more,” says Case.
She had yet to be interviewed in full over the incident, which had occurred two months and two weeks prior to Take Back The Night. Worse, her alleged perpetrator was repeatedly violating the No Contact Order established by Brian during their first meeting, which mandated that Case and her classmate have no contact or communication with one another, under any circumstances, as the investigation progressed.
Case’s alleged abuser kept knowingly entering her place of work at West Dining on campus, neglecting to leave.
And nothing was being done about it.
Brian’s unresponsiveness to Case’s pleas for intervention essentially enabled the man’s behavior – who at the time was being investigated simultaneously for exposing himself to another university worker. Clearly, he had some misinformed ideas about consent.
“Does that not show a pattern of behavior?” Case questions.
It is understandable that Case felt contradiction in President Ray’s speech. Two days later, she sent President Ray an email explaining her situation. Case described the silence bridging between her and EOA since she reported the assault.
President Ray promptly communicated his empathy and concerns, writing that there was “no excuse for a lack of timely and clear communications,” and urging Case to keep him informed of actions taken in her investigation.
He writes, “Words mean little if actions do not follow.”
President Ray then forwarded their correspondence to EOA’s then interim Executive Director Clay Simmons, along with three other OSU executives.
And what do you know, actions did follow.
But First, An Abrupt Rewind
Case had first contacted Neighbours after processing what happened to her in February.
She was hopeful over the improved, survival-friendly services claimed by OSU, especially given her horrible experience in being assaulted her freshman year, once at a dorm and twice at two fraternities – which led to PTSD, depression, and an eventual admission to the hospital under suspicion of suicidal intent by members of the university.
When she returned from the hospital, Case says that OSU made her sign a behavioral contract, warning her that if any similar incident were to occur, she’d be banned from campus housing and, “they would consider [her] continuing attendance at the school.”
They reasoned that Case was causing a disturbance to those around her – to the same students she says were calling her a “whore” and actively ostracizing her.
Case is unsure if, at the time, the school knew about the reasons leading up to her hospital stay. However, she assumed so, since she shared the incidents with her dormitory RA and RD, and had utilized safe rooms at other campus housing.
Three years later – after the university poured almost $800,000 into offices and resources supporting survivors, and spreading awareness since mid-2014 – Case found herself in the office of SARC.
This wasn’t her first time meeting Neighbours, who consulted with Case upon SARC’s opening due to her work in campus advocacy.
The next day, Neighbours accompanied Case to EOA to meet Brian, who gathered a basic report of the assault, then “immediately put out a mutual no contact order,” according to Case.
The next week Case’s alleged abuser was pulled from their shared class, and for the rest of winter term, things were looking up.
“Except that I had heard absolutely nothing about the fact that I had asked [EOA] to investigate.”
Case felt her safety was compromised at the start of spring term, when her alleged abuser – unaware of her change in schedule – walked into West Dining where she worked, made eye contact, and refused to leave.
Case panicked and tried explaining the situation to her manager, who was completely unaware of the no contact order, and generally misguided by her reaction, telling Case that she merely felt uncomfortable. That her safety wasn’t compromised because he wasn’t in her face, harassing her.
“No,” she recalls saying, “this guy assaulted me in my room over the course of 13 hours, repeatedly. I feel incredibly unsafe.”
Case emailed Brian over the no contact violation, but heard nothing. It took looping in Neighbours to finally get a response from Brian a week later, instructing her to call campus police if a similar incident were to occur.
“So, basically it took [the EOA] the entire term to develop a protocol,” says Case.
Days after hearing back from Brian, Case was admitted to the emergency room for a suicide attempt due to the “overwhelming depression, anxiety, and stress of not hearing anything about her case,” and fear that her abuser might return to her workplace.
And he did. When the man entered the building almost two weeks later, Case’s managers notified campus police. After consulting with Case, they said there was nothing that could be done, since he’d already left. Case recalls two officers questioning her and their bizarre tactics – such as asking for her alleged abuser’s date of birth.
The date was April 20, one day before the Take Back the Night event.
You Can’t Take Back the Silence
A day after President Ray applied pressure via email, Case was contacted by Neighbours, who seemed surprised by EOA’s lack of response and timely development in her investigation. Later, Case says Neighbours admitted she should follow-up more regularly with cases she refers to Title IX offices like EOA.
Simmons also took action, contacting Neighbours about Case’s story, and ultimately excluding Case from telling it herself.
“[Neighbours] never saw the irony in the fact that I should be the one to tell my story,” she says.
Finally, Brian’s silence broke and Case was called in for an interview detailing the night of her assault – almost three months after it occurred, practically eons in trauma time.
With Neighbours by her side, Case did her best to accurately recount those 13 hours with her alleged abuser.
“He would not be serious with me and have a conversation, and stop,” Case recalls.
Case invited her classmate and a couple friends to her home for Super Bowl Sunday on the night of February 7. Her friends eventually left, and Case and the man stayed up talking, before moving into her room so as not to disturb her roommate.
They began kissing and touching each other consensually, until he tried taking off her pants. That’s where her consent ended.
Case said no. She said no again, for 13 hours. But he kept trying, insisting it was casual, that they were having fun. It was all she could do to stick to her “firm line of no penile penetration.”
She didn’t aggressively fight back or resist. She was doing her best to avoid violent retaliation, like she’d experienced during prior instances of assault.
“I largely just dissociated for most of the time,” says Case, until finally she convinced him to go home, when it was time for her to go to work.
Those are the details she laid out for Brian. After the interview, EOA’s silence resumed.
Safety, Not Conviction
Case met with former Dean of Student Life and interim Chief Diversity Officer Angela Batista, while waiting for the EOA’s determination. She told Batista about the incident in February and those her freshman year – the behavioral contract she signed after returning from the hospital. Batista told Case she would reach out to Simmons regarding the investigation, and make sure he responded within five days. Case claims she never heard from either of them.
The EOA determination was delivered to Case on May 20, just days before the legal 90-day window to make a determination: he would not be facing charges due to a lack of evidence.
A stack of text messages, between Case and her alleged abuser, was present on Brian’s desk when she delivered the EOA’s decision. Case wasn’t offered access to the texts or insight into what they said, and she had long deleted them.
“I don’t think I said anything that would have indicated that I was super into what had happened. I think I continued to talk to him for about 2 weeks after I had been assaulted because that’s the time that it took me to realize I had been assaulted.”
Case requested additional information regarding EOA’s decision, which she says she never received. When Brian emailed confirmation of the determination, it was devoid of any information regarding her right to appeal.
EOA did offer alternate options to Case for earning hours at her internship, like journaling. They shaved 60 hours off the time requirement, helping her to graduate on time while she was experiencing extreme stress due to the investigation process.
Case was advised to appeal EOA’s decision by her boss. Her appeal triggered a Title IX investigation into OSU’s conduct in handling sexual assault complaints.
But right now, rather than focus on the assault or determination, the questions of hearsay, remember those moments in-between, when Case’s safety was unquestionably compromised due to systematic neglect.
“I didn’t want him to go to jail,” says Case, “All I wanted was to finish my degree and not be constantly in fear… I just wanted to be taken care of.”
The Issue with Consent
By university standard, a suspect has to be 51 percent likely to have committed an assault, rather than the near 100 percent likelihood in prosecuting criminal charges. Given the “lack of evidence,” it was Case’s word against her abuser. And their words matched up almost completely, according to Brian, besides Case’s claim of non-consent.
“Wouldn’t that indicate that maybe something happened that he just didn’t realize was non-consensual, and that he doesn’t know what consent is?” she questions.
The university initially assured Case that her alleged assaulter would get some sort of education concerning consent. They went so far as to ask for her input in planning the criteria, given her educational background as a facilitator of campus-wide conversations on sexism and sexual violence.
“Which never came to pass. They never had me involved in any way, which was frustrating because… I didn’t ask, they had offered.”
Case says she was met with one particularly invalidating remark by Brian.
“I was asked that if I had not previously been assaulted, would I have seen what happened to me as nonconsensual.”
For Case, this means Brian was suggesting it’s possible, given her prior trauma, that she entered into the situation assuming she would be assaulted, thus convincing herself she was.
But wouldn’t her background and education give her more insight into the experience? Isn’t it more likely that her abuser didn’t know the true meaning of consent or assault?
“I would say a lot of people in general don’t know how to define consent very well,” says Case, continuing, “I think the idea of nonconsensual [sex] or assault is that you’re actively fighting off your attacker… which is not necessarily true.”
By OSU definition, “Consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity, lack of resistance, or lack of active response. An individual who does not physically resist or verbally refuse sexual activity is not necessarily giving consent.”
Case calls back to her time facilitating sexual assault bystander workshops at fraternities and sororities at OSU.
“When I presented it at the fraternities, there was a lot of joking and not wanting to participate, not being serious about it.”
Case examples people joking about being virtually raped when playing video games.
“When you make a joke like that around someone who may potentially be a rapist, you make them feel validated,” she says, while victims or survivors feel ostracized and isolated.
While sorority members seemed eagerly engaged, referring to women they knew who’d been assaulted, the boys wanted to know how much alcohol was too much to be considered rape.
“That was one of the most disturbing things to me, was they needed a set line,” says Case.
She advised that if there was a shred of uncertainty, to not act on their sexual impulses.
“And that just seemed to get a lot of backlash from people, like it was me telling them they couldn’t have sex period.”
While there is clear cultural incompetence at play, Case does not consider this an excuse.
“Some of it might be human error, but… I feel like there are enough ways that you can try and communicate and clarify that it really just boils down to, did you care enough?”
“Intentions Are Not Impact”
In hindsight, when she thinks about how she was treated by Neighbours and Brian – as representatives of campus advocacy offices and trauma-informed care in general – Case found a lack of passion in their delivery, and felt on the outside during the investigation process.
“Even if they didn’t intentionally try to hurt me, I got shut out for so long and ignored for so long that I got a lot of re-victimization.”
While Neighbours and Brian came off as kind and caring, Case saw a lack of direct impact.
“[They] might have had good intentions in a lot of ways, but intentions are not impact,” she says.
A Misaligned Net
Of course, OSU, like every other university in the world, is not perfect.
There have been many strides made by Oregon State to tackle issues of campus sexual assault and provide education to students and faculty.
One such stride was taking full responsibility for maltreated survivor-turned-advocate Brenda Tracy, whose brutal gang rape included three unpunished and un-convicted OSU football players in 1998. Or the university’s most recent decision in maintaining current Title IX policies and procedures despite the Trump Administration’s rescinding of Obama-era mandates in favor of survivors.
Most recently, OSU updated their Code of Student Conduct, intending to enhance safety and equality felt on campus, in response to internal and external evaluation of Title IX rights and requirements.
These are important acknowledgements. But it’s equally important to factor where the pendulum swings in terms of preventive versus reactive measures at OSU.
Perhaps increasing standards of mandatory education that raises awareness to students and faculty, is in order. Currently,OSU faculty, athletes, and members of Greek life are required to take face-to-face workshops on sexual assault, while incoming and transfer students are only required to take online trainings.
How much of the online content clicks? Case surmises that most people are “just clicking through,” based on her feedback from other students.
“It’s very hypothetical when it’s not right across from you,” she says.
It’s the face to face interaction that seems to spark empathy or understanding, that “added element of people having to look you in the eye and see this is a human being,” as Case explains.
Obviously, there are bound to be some that fall through the cracks; no one can control a person’s capacity to care in any given situation. Even trained faculty at OSU seemed to miss some clicks in working with Case: the misinformed manager, the insensitive campus cops, the reportedly inappropriate comments posed by OSU advocates.
Somewhere, something gets lost in translation. We lose touch with the many ways in which a survivor physically and emotionally reacts during and after trauma.
If a person can get away with sexually violating another person, because the victim used their learned survival skills instead of active resistance – if compliance is inferred or determined as consent – then the system is broken. The 50 percent goes in favor of perpetrators, enabling them to feel free and justified.
If an institution, no matter how hard it’s trying, fails to reach survivors or represent their felt realities through incomplete statistics, then the fabric doesn’t fit.The funds aren’t centered. The system needs rebooted.
Clark says the university doesn’t “wait on reporting,” that they act in accordance to what’s right.
The last OSU survivor The Advocate wrote about was former student Miriam Morrissette, in a feature article last April.
Though isolated incidents, much of Morrissette’s story echoes concerns brought forward by Kathleen Case. Both women felt they were treated unfairly by the offices instituted to protect them and their rights. Their stories present a window into how victims fare in a system with disordered priorities, relaxed and confusing definitions of consent, and a positive public facade built on incomplete records.
CALL TO ACTION
It is our hope that the university will join us, as outsiders, in finding solutions to the problems at hand. Here is our call for better open communication and transparency. Let’s commune as a community, and get down to the issues of consent and assault.
It shouldn’t take a newspaper for a survivor, like Case, to feel heard. We should have systems and pillars of built support that work.
Until then, Case deserves to feel heard.
“You have to look at me,” she says, “You have to look at what this did to me, and you have to see me as a person. I’m not just another case number. I’m not just a girl you spent the night with.”
The Advocate made multiple attempts to contact the offices of EOA and SARC, or specifically, Neighbours, Brian, and now Executive Director of EOA, Kim Kirkland. All inquiries were either deferred or forwarded to Clark for comment. President Ray and the Office of Student Life were also contacted. Neither replied.
Coverage of Miriam Morrissette can be found on The Corvallis Advocate website, by searching her name. The Huffington Post article is titled ‘What It Looks Like When A University Truly Fixes How It Handles Sexual Assault,’ and can be found online.
By Stevie Beisswanger