EDITORIAL: Sexual assault victims should come forward with no pressure
OU sexual assault victim advocates are not required to report assaults to police, but state Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, is looking to change that with House Bill 312. The bill would require university employees to tell police about any report of sexual assault involving a student, whether the student wants to pursue a police investigation or not.
While we applaud Ivester’s effort, we believe forcing university advocates to report crimes would dissuade victims from coming forward at all.
Sexual assaults are underreported and rarely punished at OU, The Daily reported in a three-part series in October.
Only 61 reports of sexual assault filed with the OU police department from 2000 to then, we reported. Of those cases, not one resulted in jail time for any offender.
National surveys suggest one in four female college students have been victims of sexual assault at one time in their lives. If these numbers are even remotely accurate, OU has a serious problem with sexual assault underreporting, we must not create policies that would discourage reporting.
The primary concern of any university policy or department tasked with victim assistance must be the health and welfare of victims seeking help from the university. Confidentiality concerns are among the top barriers to reporting sexual assaults on campus, according to a study published in the Journal of American College Health in 2006.
When a victim reports sexual assaults to any authority, the victim is more likely to receive medical and psychological treatment, the study reported.
After first aid — psychological and physical — is administered, victims can be encouraged to report the assault to the police by university counselors and victims’ advocates.
University advocates must maintain confidentiality. Victims of sexual assault should not be required to report the crime to the police, but student services should adopt policies and procedures to encourage victims to make the report themselves.
University advocacy organizations can act as an intermediary between students and the police to facilitate the process of reporting a crime to the police.
It is not enough for a counselor or advocate to tell the victim to go to the police — advocates must work with both victims and police to make the reporting process as accessible as possible.
This strategy combines the protection of confidentiality with the benefits of reporting a crime to the police. If a victim does not feel safe enough to report a crime to anyone, no care can be given. Some victims cannot or should not go to the police, and they should not be coerced to do so. But once a victim expresses willingness to go to police, it is the university’s responsibility to make the reporting process as easy and painless as possible.
The bill Ivester introduced is well intentioned, but threatens efforts to give needed first aid to assault victims.
Ask Ivester to amend his bill to encourage universities to adopt policies that do not threaten victim confidentiality.