Sexual violence is a grave issue that impacts millions of Americans every year and has earned the disheartening title of a “silent-violent epidemic” by the American Medical Association. This problem isn’t any less apparent on college campuses, with an estimated one in ten students having experienced sexual violence during college. In 2022 alone, sexual violence directly affected approximately two million college students, making it the most prevalent crime on campus.
The trauma inflicted by sexual violence has a big impact on survivors, exacerbating the urgency of addressing this issue. Although many universities offer counseling systems that can assist survivors, the demand often surpasses the available resources. The lack of support and resources available to student survivors often leads to devasting long-term consequences that can impact their education and economic outcomes, long-term career trajectory, and emotional and physical health. Representatives Annessa Hartman and Mark Gamba, along with Every Voice Coalition, aim to address this issue through HB 3456. The proposed legislation takes a comprehensive approach to addressing campus sexual violence from two critical angles.
Firstly, HB 3456 calls for more robust systems that provide comprehensive support to student survivors outside of the flawed mandatory reporting process. Secondly, HB 3456 emphasizes the importance of prevention, requiring Oregon colleges and universities to commit to robust prevention efforts. HB 3456 aims to prioritize the needs of survivors and seeks to create a proactive and supportive environment on campus.
This bill would require Oregon universities and colleges to have the following: an amnesty policy; confidential advocates; free medical, counseling, and legal services; and a more accurate tracking and reporting system.
- Amnesty Policy
HB 3456 strives to create an environment on campus where survivors are encouraged to come forward, seek support, and report incidents without fearing negative repercussions by guaranteeing “amnesty” for victims. An integral aspect of the proposed bill is the inclusion of an amnesty policy that aims to provide anti-retaliation protections for reporting parties. This policy puts the safety of students first. It ensures that survivors are not intimidated or silenced due to the fear of retaliation or punishment, particularly in cases involving alcohol consumption or drug use. By implementing the amnesty policy, the bill seeks to prevent bystanders from being penalized for breaking their school’s code of conduct, such as alcohol or drug use, at the time of an incident.
Amnesty policies ensure that student survivors are not silenced or deterred from seeking support due to the fear of punishment if they break the school’s conduct code. The hope is that this will promote a culture of accountability for perpetrators while ensuring survivors are not burdened with additional blame or punishment for their traumatic experiences.
- Confidential Advocates
Another necessary provision of HB 3456 is the requirement for confidential advocates on college campuses. Many campuses currently lack comprehensive services for survivors of sexual violence, which creates a significant barrier to seeking assistance and reporting incidents. The bill takes a non-carceral approach by redirecting attention toward the survivors’ needs for resources and support rather than primarily focusing on punitive measures.
As outlined in the legislation, confidential advocates are trained to support survivors and help them navigate the process of accessing accommodations and resources on campus without formally reporting the incident. One key aspect of these advocates is that they are bound by privileged communications under the law, guaranteeing the utmost confidentiality between survivors and the person they reach out to for support. By mandating the availability of confidential advocates, the bill ensures that survivors have accessible options and avenues to seek help and resources, regardless of whether they choose to report the incident to law enforcement formally.
- Free Medical, Counseling, and Legal Services
HB 3456 also requires colleges and universities to provide free medical, counseling, and legal services for survivors of sexual assault. Fewer than half of survivors receive counseling or support services, indicating a significant gap in available resources. It is essential that survivors have accessible options to address their needs, and HB 3456 aims to establish partnerships between schools and rape crisis centers to provide comprehensive support.
Through implementing a memorandum of understanding, Oregon colleges, and universities will ensure that students and employees have access to off-campus alternatives for free and confidential sexual misconduct crisis services. This includes access to specialized professionals such as sexual assault nurse examiners and domestic violence crisis services tailored to address the specific needs of survivors. By requiring schools to implement these services and partnerships, survivors can seek support from trained professionals who can guide them through the healing process and provide legal assistance. This provision of HB 3456 ensures that survivors are not burdened with the financial implications of seeking essential services and reaffirms their right to receive comprehensive care and support.
- Tracking and Reporting Data
Lastly, another critical component of HB 3456 is the requirement for tracking and reporting sexual violence on college campuses. The current reporting requirements fail to capture the true prevalence of sexual violence on campuses; national statistics estimate that 90-95% of campus survivors of sexual assault choose not to report their experiences. Furthermore, schools are only obligated to report incidents of violence that are reported to them, which creates a significant information gap. If students are not comfortable coming forward about their assaults, their experiences remain hidden within the data, leading to not only a gross underestimation of the problem but also a lack of accessible resources for survivors. This systemic failure has made it challenging to develop effective prevention strategies and allocate resources where needed most.
To address this issue, HB 3456 mandates the collection of comprehensive data through anonymous campus climate surveys, hopefully contributing to increased transparency and awareness. Oregon schools will be better able to identify at-risk demographics and tailor solutions to the unique circumstances of their campus communities by collecting more accurate data on sexual violence. The discrepancy between reported cases and the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses is a disservice to current and prospective students. HB 3456 attempts to bridge this information gap, provide a more accurate representation of sexual violence on campuses, and holds institutions accountable by implementing tracking and reporting measures.
HB 3456 is currently in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means and has received many positive testimonies, including some from the Oregon Student Association and the Oregon Department of Justice. Passing this bill is crucial in addressing the pervasive issue of sexual violence on college campuses. This bill will provide campus survivors with more support and resources if passed. HB 3456 attempts to tackle this issue with a comprehensive approach, which prioritizes survivors’ needs. Only through concerted efforts can we foster an environment where all students can pursue their education free from the threat of sexual violence.
Crew Janci LLP has represented victims of sexual abuse against colleges.
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