Officials at Oklahoma State University did not go to the police with several reports of rape or sexual assault on campus in 2011, falesly believing that they were following procedures protecting the information of the purported assailant.
According to a report by an OSU Board of Regents task force, university representatives “misinterpreted the Federal Education Rights Privacy Act.” The university believed that purported rapists’ educational records might have been involved in the case, and so, to protect those records, decided sexual assault fell under the purview of the school, not law enforcement:
Friday’s report cites a provision in FERPA that allows institutions to contact campus police to ask them to investigate possible crimes on campus. The report notes that members of the news media brought the provision to university officials’ attention.
According to the report, OSU officials rejected that argument, saying a different provision in FERPA wouldn’t have allowed them to turn over educational records, including those generated in student conduct hearings.
But that provision wouldn’t have applied in this case, according to the report. When officials learned of the incidents, no student conduct hearings were pending, meaning no such records had been created.
“OSU could have notified the police immediately after it became aware that the sexual assaults had been committed,” the report states.
Universities like Oklahoma State are struggling to come up with adequate sexual assault policies. OSU’s Board of Regents’ task force was actually created as a response to the child molestation case at Penn State University. Often, rape (on campus and elsewhere) goes under-reported, both on the part of the victim and the university. Victims often report feeling too ashamed to go to the authorities with what’s happened to them. For obvious reasons, universities have a vested interest in maintaining low numbers of sexual assault reports on their campuses.