In January, a rape survivor sued the University of Oregon for mishandling her sexual-assault case. Through the campus judicial process, the university found the three male students responsible for gang-raping her (not the technical term). They were kicked off the varsity basketball team and eventually out of school. But there is a lot more to the story, including the ways that the university delayed the investigation of the students long enough so that they could finish up their basketball season.
The story is long, and it might destroy your faith in humanity, even if the university did drop its counterclaim against the survivor last week. In that counterclaim, Oregon had accused her of “creating a very real risk that survivors will wrongly be discouraged from reporting sexual assaults.”
But I want to focus on only one sliver of this case—one ugly, frightening sliver. I guess we can thank the university’s administration for shining some daylight on the legal quirk that I’m about to talk about, because otherwise it might have stayed hidden.
The Oregon administration accessed the rape survivor’s therapy records from its counseling center and handed them overto its general counsel’s office to help them defend against her lawsuit. They were using her own post-rape therapy records against her.
It was a senior staff therapist in the counseling unit who blew the whistleon the administration’s actions. In her public letter, she sounds horrified that the work she thought was protected by medical privilege could be violated in such a fashion.
The university came firing back, arguing that because the rape survivor had asserted a legal claim of emotional distress, Oregon was entitled under, of all things, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to use her medical records to defend against her suit.
Katie Rose Guest Pryal, a columnist for The Chronicle’s Vitae, is a former professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in higher education, mental health, and social-justice issues.