Columns / Discourse / February 24, 2016

OCR investigations a chance to change

As Monmouth College is launched into the spotlight due to an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), we’re reminded of the often long-term processes that survivors of sexual assault are subjugated to. We recognize it is a courageous act to step forward and begin the Title IX process.

We also recognize and support those who decide to continue and file a separate OCR investigation.

An OCR investigation begins when someone feels wronged by the original Title IX process. Often arduous and opaque, the investigations can span anywhere from six months to several years to solve, and updates on the investigation can be sporadic and vague. Cases at Michigan State and University of Virginia just closed after nearly four years.

But for many, the hope that these investigations will result in change for others is enough to stick through the process. People who file OCR complaints have already been through the wringer — they’ve dealt with the victimization and revictimization involved in filing a complaint just at their school. It speaks volumes about the mistakes and wrongs that occur in a college’s bureaucratic process that so many people from so many schools have taken to the OCR to complain about the way their case was handled.

There are options. People can file a civil suit and potentially get a settlement from the college. They could also be reimbursed for counseling or medical expenses. Instead, survivors have turned to the government to make a more significant, institutional change. They deal with years of unknowns, just to fix the system.

So it’s no surprise that Knox has the most OCR complaints of any ACM school — this is a campus of people unwilling to settle for the status quo. The people who’ve filed complaints are making changes, and we’re grateful for that.

In order to make the process more understandable, the OCR needs to make its investigations more transparent and accessible to those involved. Rather than giving little to no information while the reviews are being conducted, a more concise timeline and communication with the college would give clarity to the process. For over two years, Knox has been mostly in the dark about where it stands in its OCR complaints. There’s very little information that’s given — we just know we’re on a very long list of colleges also being investigated.

A recent article in The Guardian by senior reporter Molly Redden described the process of Amanda Nguyen, a proponent of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, as she struggled to withhold the destruction of her rape kit. If passed, the new act would require consistent rights and protections for survivors of sexual assault, regardless of whether they decide to press charges.

Beyond that, the new legislation would also make the process more concise and understandable to those who submit evidence of their assault, something the OCR should also consider doing.

In recent news, Kesha’s request to break contract with Sony reminds us of how the needs of survivors of sexual assault are often put on the back burner as economic, social or political interests seem more important. Rather than provide support and resources for those in need, the bureaucracy built into the process of filing a complaint creates several more hoops to jump through without providing many answers.

Four days after the New York State Supreme Court ruled that she could not break her contract with Sony producer Lukasz Gottwald, Kesha broke her silence on social media by urging others not to be afraid to speak out.

“There are places that will make you feel safe. There are people who will help you. I, for one, will stand beside you and behind you. I know now how this all feels and will forever fight for you the way perfect strangers have been fighting for me,” Kesha wrote.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  Amanda Nguyen change Kesha Knox College Office of Civil Rights progress Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act student movement thoughts from the embers title ix

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