On Friday, April 7, 2017, Graves & Swanson LLC Partner Jacqueline Swanson gave a presentation at the Pacific Sociological Association’s (“PSA”) Conference in downtown Portland, Oregon. Along with Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber and Occidental College Political Science Professor Caroline Heldman, Swanson’s presentation focused on “Institutional Betrayal: Retaliation and Sexual Assault on Campus.”
Sexual assault on university campuses is a pervasive problem across the United States. Recent studies show that between one-fifth and one-quarter of female university students will experience either attempted or completed rape during their undergraduate years. For example, a 2015 University of Oregon study (conducted by lead researcher and UO Psychology Professor Jennifer Freyd) found that 27% of female UO students experienced at least one non-consensual sexual incident, 20% reported being victims of completed or attempted rape or other type of sexual victimization.
Nonetheless, 90% or more of sexual assault survivors on college campuses do not report the assault, for fear that they will not be believed, or will face hostile treatment by their peers and authority figures on campus for reporting the assault. Disbelief and official mishandling of sexual assault cases can greatly increase survivor trauma. Unfortunately, stories culled from news reports and cases indicate that survivors’ fears about reporting are well-founded. As Jacqueline Swanson, Brenda Tracy, Representative Ann Lininger and others testified during the March 23, 2017 hearing on Oregon House Bill 2972, the treatment that victims can often expect from their schools when they make a report includes the following:
The school does nothing at all;
The school talks to the alleged perpetrator, who denies the allegations, and thereafter does nothing (including nothing to protect the victim from any retaliation from the alleged perpetrator or his friends as a result of her report);
The school waits or investigates so slowly that it takes months or years before the survivor receives any kind of redress;
School officials investigate in a biased way, such as through their treatment of the survivor or characterization of her case;
School officials investigate and determine that the sexual violence did occur, but do not discipline or minimally discipline the assailant and do not protect the survivor from any retaliation;
School officials investigate and determine that the sexual violence did occur and proceed to remove the victim from classes, housing, or transportation services where she would encounter her assailant, resulting in significant disruption to the victim's education but none to the assailant's;
School officials tell the victim not to tell anyone else, including parents and the police;
School officials hold a hearing to determine whether the allegations are true, find the perpetrator responsible, and then tell the victim she cannot tell anyone about the findings or she will be brought up on disciplinary charges;
School officials tell the victim that if she does not cooperate with the investigation or proceed with the disciplinary hearing process, she may be brought up on disciplinary charges;
… and more.
These behaviors run counter to the purpose of Title IX and similar statutes prohibiting sex harassment in schools as a form of gender discrimination.
The rate of campus peer sexual violence and the high non-reporting rate perpetuate a cycle whereby perpetrators commit sexual violence because they think they will not get caught or because they actually have not been caught. Because survivors largely do not report due to the documented disbelief and/or hostile reactions of others, particularly those in authority, the first step of campus communities and society as a whole should be to change these attitudes and the procedures in order to encourage victims to come forward. Yet survivors cannot be expected to report unless they are treated better when they do.
For all of these reasons and more, we are proud that attorney Jackie Swanson was able to participate on this important panel, and lend her legal experience regarding the enforcement of Title IX and similar laws to allow victims to seek justice and accountability for institutional betrayal through the civil justice system.