Southern Oregon University is setting an example for colleges across the country with its Campus Choice program that encourages students to report sexual assaults. SOU officials deserve praise for addressing the problem head-on rather than denying it exists or hushing it up when it happens.
Campus officials say a dramatic increase in reported assaults is evidence that the program is working. Only 12 reports were filed in 2011 and eight in 2012, but the number rose to 97 in 2015. They say the increase doesn't mean more assaults are happening, but that students feel they'll be treated fairly if they come forward.
The program allows students reporting an assault to choose how it will be handled. The student can opt to receive support resources, to start an administrative review or to file a criminal complaint with police. The student can remain anonymous, and campus Confidential Advisors can guarantee confidentiality.
The Campus Choice program shares similarities with the Ashland Police Department's You Have Options program, which is also getting national attention.
Even the best reporting system, however, can respond only after the fact, and after a student has come forward. Reducing the incidence of sexual assault, as well as domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, requires changing the culture.
That means educating students, both male and female, about healthy relationships, consent, and respect for boundaries. That is happening at SOU as well, with an emphasis on reaching out to first-year students.
Congratulations to SOU for leading the way.