Sexual assault on campus: 'Prevent things from happening in the first place'

EUGENE, Ore. -- Dozens of universities across the nation are under scrutiny stemming from cases of sexual assault on campus and how the White House says the cases were mishandled.

The University of Oregon is not on the list of the 55 schools under investigation, but university leaders say they have heard the message and are being pro-active.

"Title IX has been with us a long time. It has always been applicable," said Jennifer Freyd, a UO psychology professor.

Freyd said the landmark 1972 law can be the big hammer to get universities to pay attention to sexual assault.

Freyd is on the White House task force that put 55 schools on notice to shape up.

"This means that institutions like universities have a very strong responsibility to respond well and of course, to prevent things from happening in the first place," Freyd said.

"We're proud that we are not on that list of 55," said Reta Radostitz, UO Communications Director of Student Affairs, "and we are doing, making efforts to listen to our students, look at best practices."

Oregon President Michael Gottfredson was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment, but in a policy statement issued last month he wrote, "I write to reaffirm my commitment to ensuring a safe campus for all. Anything less is contrary to the values of our institution."

Recently the UO took steps to expand services by launching a new website on preventing and reporting sexual violence. The university also has a new Violence Response Team at the UO counseling center.

It continues to work alongside Eugene agency Sexual Assault Support Services.

"We are available 24/7, but having a dedicated staff position (specifically assigned to UO victims of assault) would really help to make those connections with the students," director B.B. Beltran said.

Reported sexual assault cases at Oregon are trending up. The latest numbers from the UO Police Department on reported forcible sex offences on campus in 2012 was 17, up from 8 cases in 2011.

Spokesman Kelly McIver said much of the increase is because more victims are coming forward to report attacks.