Audrey Love

One in four women and one in 16 men report being sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The statistics surrounding sexual violence on university campuses are a grim reminder of the realities many students encounter — and most don’t report their assault or receive victim services following their experience.

Eastern Oregon University is taking steps to diminish barriers to reporting sexual and dating violence through the addition of a Privileged Campus Advocate, an on-campus Shelter From the Storm employee available to students, faculty and staff as a confidential resource for those impacted by abuse.

“A lot of times (victims) might be fearful of reporting or accidentally triggering an investigation, and that’s what I’m here for,” said Tyana Musrasrik, the university’s Privileged Campus Advocate, a newly formed position made possible through the Victims of Crime Act grant awarded to EOU. “They can come speak with me (and) get emotional support.”

Colleen Dunne-Cascio, Title IX coordinator and director of student relations at EOU, worked to secure grant funding from the Oregon Department of Justice Victims of Crime Act through collaboration with local advocacy agency Shelter From the Storm, a local organization that supports individuals impacted by domestic abuse, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. The 30-month competitive grant, effective through September 2020, provided the funds essential to forming the PCA position — one the university and SFTS had discussed collaborating on for years.

“This was a great opportunity for us to rekindle our relationship and work with SFTS on a more personal level to help victims of crime get assistance,” Dunne-Cascio said. “The whole objective is to get students, faculty and staff to report and seek (help). It creates another avenue for individuals interested in reporting (who maybe) don’t want to have an investigation but want it to be known or need help.”

Unlike the university, which is required under federal law and university policy to investigate all reports of interpersonal violence brought to their attention (for example, sexual harassment and assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence), the PCA is a confidential resource not required to divulge information unless explicitly given permission by the victim through a written release. The PCA is essentially an extension of SFTS — providing EOU students, faculty and staff with the Shelter’s same resources, with the addition of specialty training required for Title IX and the on-campus aspect of the service in dealing with students.

“Our hope is that the convenience (of having an on-campus resource will) encourage reporting, because we’re concerned about the victim’s safety and well-being — how can we help them emotionally, physically, mentally,” Dunne-Cascio said. “The important thing is to help them through the process.”

The university and SFTS are able to assist with essentially “whatever it is the victim is needing,” said Dunne-Cascio, including no contact or sexual assault protective orders; counseling; academic support such as altering class schedules and notifying faculty of a student’s extended absence; changing housing location(s) and assisting with moving; providing sexual assault forensic exams and emergency contraception free of charge; and, if the victim decides to report the abuse to law enforcement, providing assistance and advocacy in that process.

“If they do choose to do something, I help them through the process and guide them through whatever it is they want to do,” Musrasrik said of her role. “Other colleges and universities in the state are already (implementing similar services), and there’s definitely a need for it (here) as well.”

More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses don’t report their assault and only five percent of men and 21 percent of women reported receiving victim services, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.