One in Five

Sexual assault on college campuses and where the University of Oregon fits in.

It is no question that unwanted sexual behavior has become an important and relevant issue in America in recent times. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women will be raped while she is in college. Even President Barack Obama has made a point to address the issue of sexual assault on university campuses and has launched the “It’s On Us” initiative as an awareness campaign. He also established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to work towards reestablishing colleges as safe places for higher education. It seems like almost weekly there is a story about rape and whether or not it was handled properly at schools across the country.

From Harvard to the University of South Carolina, it’s become far too easy to hear of not only horrific sexual assaults, but also the improper response to them. In the film The Hunting Ground, a film specifically surrounding these events, there is a section about the rape of Erica Kinsman, a student at Florida State University. Her alleged attacker, quarterback and Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston, was said to have been protected by the university so that he would maintain his ability to play (and win) for the school. She has said that the local police did not investigate in a timely manner and she was advised to drop her case. Unfortunately, this story is all too common. At the University of Oregon, there have been very similar claims.

In March 2014, a woman, named in reports as Jane Doe, claimed to have been gang raped by three men while she was intoxicated and unable to consent. The alleged attackers were later named as Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, and Brandon Austin — all members of the Oregon Ducks basketball team. The University came under fire from local and national media, students, and even employees of the UO for how it handled the case, the team, and the lawsuits that followed.

The statistics about sexual violence at the University of Oregon are unsettling. According to campus surveys, nearly 4,000 of the 10,000 women enrolled as undergraduates at the UO will experience some form of unwanted sexual contact during their time in school, and 2,000 or more will experience rape. This statistic implies that 20 women will become victims of sexual assault at UO each week that have not previously been assaulted. Of the 97 people who said they filed reports of sexual assault in the 2014–2015 school year, only 13 have actually showed up on official reports, according to research by Mother Jones, which suggests that the actual numbers may be even higher.

A Silent Crime

As many as 90% of the rapes committed on college campuses go unreported, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The Association of American Universities reported that the top reason for not reporting sexual misconduct is that the victim does not feel it is serious enough to report, followed by embarrassment and assumption that nothing would be done about it.

In April 2015, Sarah*, a UO student, attended a party with her friends. After some time of dancing in the warm evening air, she began to feel ill. Sarah had consumed a lot of liquor prior to and upon arriving at the party. She went to a room in the back of house to escape the crowd to lie down. A boy, Alex*, came to check on her while she was alone on the couch. The two had attended the same high school and had many mutual friends. Initially, she was not alarmed as he approached her, but soon, he began to strip Sarah of her clothes and penetrate her. She tried to object, but was still feeling ill from drinking and was unable to push Alex away. When she left the back room sobbing, her friends knew something terrible had happened.

Alex maintained to his friends that everything was consensual, causing some to question Sarah’s behavior, drinking, and habits. “It sounded like they didn’t believe her,” Sarah’s close friend, Emma Childs, said. “I couldn’t believe that.”

Childs observed changes in Sarah immediately. She says that Sarah decided not to report the rape that had occurred because she felt it was more work than it was worth and said she was okay. Sarah did not return to the University of Oregon this year due to her rape, citing a lack of closure with the situation. Childs said she became very distant and introverted after the assault.

“[Sarah] blew it off like it was no big deal,” she said. “But then she didn’t come back.”

Sexual Assault in Fraternity and Sorority Life

The issue of sexual violence is a particularly prevalent one in Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) around the country. A study published by John Foubert of CNN in 2007 found that men involved in fraternities were three times more likely to rape someone. Additionally, being involved in a sorority would increase the risk that a woman may be raped by 74%. Fraternities hold the stereotype of glorifying drugs and alcohol, partying, and getting lots of women. These behaviors often encourage, or at least foster, unwanted sexual behavior when there is a lack of understanding of what makes rape, rape.

At the University of Oregon, two fraternities were investigated in the spring of 2014 for alleged use of date-rape drugs at their parties. The national and local conversation of whether or not fraternities affected the rate of sexual assault became particularly important to UO when a professor, Jennifer J. Freyd, put out a survey to understand the climate of sexual violence on campus.

The results spoke in favor of Foubert’s assertion: Greek affiliation did increase the risk of unwanted sexual advances at the University of Oregon. Women who were involved in sororities were 3.5 times more likely to have unwanted sexual contact, and 3.4 times more likely to have been victim to an attempted or completed rape than their non-Greek counterparts.

Based on these findings, the ASUO put forth a motion to halt the expansion of FSL until the problems surrounding sexual violence were identified and stopped. One of the things that was implemented to change the dialogue in Greek life was the creation of the FSL Task Force for Sexual Violence Prevention, now known as the Sexual Violence Prevention Leadership Board. The task force required one member of each chapter to attend weekly meetings with the UO’s Director of Sexual Violence Prevention & Education. The goal was that these members would become more educated on sexual assault and develop leadership skills for becoming liaisons in their chapters and leaders who can respond.

Marissa Arnett is the representative for Pi Beta Phi, one of eleven sororities at the UO. She is a vivacious and outspoken senior studying Family and Human Services and Women and Gender Studies. When the opportunity came about to be a part of the new task force, Arnett was inspired and eager to join.

“I took the chance to apply…after a good friend of mine became a survivor of sexual assault. I thought that I had the qualities to take this issue on and speak openly about it, had unique ideas about things we could do, and was passionate about contributing to the efforts to prevent something that had hurt someone very close to me,” she said. “I am very interested in helping or counseling professions, and so taking on the position of someone that would very much be an advocate, ally and support resource was something I knew I’d be good at.”

In a Task Force meeting, each liaison was asked to facilitate their chapters in creating an official position statement on sexual assault. The one that Arnett helped create for the University of Oregon’s chapter of Pi Beta Phi was then adopted by their national organization.

“When I am doing so much peer education on topics like boundaries, consent, healthy sexuality, bystander intervention and sexual assault support, I have found that I am more competent and equipped to put these things into action outside of the weekly meetings,” Arnett said. “I am someone that people know they can come to for help or resources, or even just to ask questions. I love that I have assumed that role, and that I can give so much back to my community and friends.”

There is still progress to be made for sexual assault within the Greek community, but these new measures have begun the conversation.

Claire Johnson: Campus Crusader

Claire Johnson is a petite brunette with kind, and welcoming brown eyes. Upon first glance, she might seem to be your average student. But Johnson has an enormous voice at the UO and fiery spirit that she uses to educate her peers, provoke conversation, and fight for feminist issues. “I learned from a young age that if I have a voice that can be listened to,” Johnson said. “I will use it to spotlight issues that matter.”

Since her freshman year, Johnson has dressed up as the “Guardian Angel of Consensual Sex” for Halloween each year. Dawning lingerie and a fanny-pack full of condoms and informational pamphlets, she spent this year much like the past two — educating those around her. Each Halloween, she has inspired many in the campus community with her commitment to using the holiday to send a message.

“By wearing just a bra and shorts, I meant to challenge the popular idea that if a woman dresses sexily or with little clothing, she deserves to be harassed (or assaulted) because she is ‘asking for it.’ No one deserves to be hurt or made to feel unsafe to any extent for the way their body appears,” she said. “My goal was to ensure to whatever extent I could, that [Halloween night] stayed significant for all the right reasons, rather than the precarious wrong ones.”

During the rest of the year, she works to combat sexual assault while providing a safe environment for survivors. Johnson is the Internal Vice President of Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO). Johnson is also the Member-at-Large for Organization Against Sexual Assault, attends Coalition for Consent meetings, a member of Chi Omega sorority, and works on the feminist UO publication, Siren Magazine. She understands that the issue of sexual assault can be caused by lack of understanding what defines rape.

“Too often students and young adults don’t think that sexual violence is as big of an issue as it really is.” Johnson said. “Coercion, substance use, and power dynamics in relationships are just a few ways that contribute to sexual violence.”

Speaking out about feminist issues and sexual violence has becoming a defining characteristic of Johnson’s life of which she plans to continue to fight for.

UO Prevention Efforts

In the past year, the University of Oregon has ramped up its sexual assault prevention tactics. Get Explicit 101 is a new program implemented this fall for students living in the residence halls to learn about sexual violence. According to the UO webpage, “the training includes interactive discussions about healthy sexuality, boundaries, communication, consent, social norms, sexual assault, and bystander intervention.” Trainings similar to this one have also been implemented in several student organizations.

Last year, taking from the It’s On Us campaign, the UO created its own It’s On Ducks campaign to encourage students to take ownership in their own community. There was also a video competition held to encourage more students to speak up about sexual violence.

Additionally, the University of Oregon has many organizations and programs already in place that aim to reduce sexual assault. Safe Ride is a free shuttle service that gives people an alternative to walking alone at night that provides nearly 15,000 rides per year. The Organization Against Sexual Assault advocates for survivors of sexual violence at the University of Oregon through increased education, prevention efforts, and survivor empowerment. The ASUO Men’s Center has taken charge to address sexual violence as a men’s issue, not just a women’s. Similarly, the ASUO Women’s Center advocates for the women of UO through prevention efforts towards domestic abuse and sexual assault.

The Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT) is a peer theatre education group that acts out scenarios and how to respond to them. Ayasha Thurman is a bold, passionate member of the group who lit up at the chance to speak about it.

“I saw [SWAT preform]…my freshmen year, and I fell in love with the idea of helping,” Thurman said. “Rape culture is all too prevalent and one of the best ways to lead to an end of rape culture is to educate people about consent.”

The University Health Center also provides sexual assault support to victims. This includes physical exams, emergency contraception, referrals to counseling, and evidence collection.

As many programs as have been implemented, there is only so much that the UO can do. After that, it’s on us to make the change.

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.