Southern Oregon University will have a voice on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to speak with lawmakers about how law enforcement can best handle cases of sexual assault occurring on university campuses across the country.
The university and Ashland police's collaborative and unique approach to pursuing on-campus sexual misconduct investigations has helped shed more light on the frequency of crimes like sexual assault and led to the convictions of more perpetrators.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism will hear about why other universities and local law enforcement departments around the country should follow the lead of SOU and Ashland police when it comes to taking on reports of sexual assault.
"Nationally there are not many places where a campus administration and law enforcement entity collaborate on the level that we do here," said Angela Fleischer, 33, SOU’s Assistant Director of Student Support and Intervention for Confidential Advising -- a victims' advocate for the university.
Fleischer will be SOU's voice when she testifies before the Senate subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.
Fleischer, who helped the Ashland Police Department develop its highly regarded sexual assault reporting program called "You Have Options" in 2013, developed a similar program more recently at SOU called "Campus Choice."
Both programs have a similar approach to how and whether law enforcement or university officials gather evidence during an investigation into a sexual assault and both allow the victim to dictate the pace of the investigation.
"The university does not report to police without the student wanting to," said Fleischer, who is trained to speak with victims of sexual crimes that come forward to the university.
"When a case is brought forward to a college administrator there would be this statement of 'of course you are free to contact the police.'" she said. "What I do is, I provide support to students throughout the entire process, whichever process they choose, or if they choose both. It's really having someone on campus who can explain the criminal process to victims, the person that helps guide them through each system and process and explains it to them."
Another trait of both victims' reporting programs is the method by which victims are interviewed. University officials handle cases similarly to police detectives, Fleischer said, so that if the victim decides to involve police, school officials can pass off credible evidence concerning the case.
Since SOU and APD launched their revamped victims' reporting programs, the rate of reports has doubled in Ashland, and it's expected to continue growing, Fleischer said.
"More information can give you the ability to address and react to a situation, but information can also be scary," she said, pointing to a commonly accepted statistic of just 10 percent of Oregon's sex crime victims reporting.
"It's not that sexual assault has increased, it't that we have students that have more faith in the system for reporting ... students can come forward and gather info about their options without things moving forward," she said.
According to SOU's 2014 Campus Report on Sexual Misconduct, 24 anonymous reports of sexual misconduct were reported by students to the Women's Resource Center during the 2012-2013 academic year, and eight reports were made to the university by victims.
During the 2011-2012 school year, those numbers were 14 WRC reports and nine university reports, with eight WRC reports and eight university reports in 2010-2011 and 19 WRC reports and eight university reports in 2009-2010.
Since APD launched its You Have Options program, the number of reports in Ashland has climbed 106 percent.
At some point the rise in reporting numbers should level off, Fleischer said, allowing universities and law enforcement agencies to more narrowly focus education and victim support related to sex crimes on college campuses.
Fleischer, who is scheduled to speak for five minutes during the hearing, will be joined at the hearing by Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team Executive Director Susan Moen.
SOU and APD's partnership to improve the reporting process for victims of sexual crimes served at a model for a Senate bill introduced in July by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). The aim of McCaskill's bill, which is scheduled for a hearing early next year, is to increase campus coordination with law enforcement during the course of sex crime investigations.
Reach freelance reporter Sam Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.