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Who’s Responsible?

UO rape investigation a case of institutional betrayal?

This story contains details of an alleged sexual assault that may be triggering to some readers and rape survivors. EW uses the word “alleges” not to indicate doubt in the survivor but as a legal term for when no charges have been proven in a court of law.

The young woman told the Eugene Police Department “I thought maybe this was just what happens in college … just college fun.” She said she was initially OK going into the bathroom at an off-campus party with three guys, but “did not want to have sex. No way did I want to be fucked by three people at once.” 

Later, one of the alleged assailants, Damyean Dotson, age 19, told the girl in a phone conversation that was secretly recorded by the police that “he would not want anyone to do that to his mom or sister.”

The police report goes into disturbing detail about what happened at a house near campus on March 8 and 9 between a young woman and three now-former members of the University of Oregon basketball team. The nameless young woman told the Eugene police that the young men “stopped when she started crying, and one of them said, ‘I think we fucked her too hard.’”

Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner declined to prosecute the case and the UO allowed two of the basketball players to participate in the NCAA tournament, which began March 18, that netted Coach Dana Altman a $50,000 bonus, and the school didn’t pull Dotson, Dominic Artis, 18, and Brandon Austin, 19, from the team until rallies of several hundred students took place on campus and the story made national headlines. 

Gardner issued a lengthy statement May 6 that said, “A no-file decision is not a statement about who we believe or don’t believe” but that there was insufficient evidence “to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

Among the reasons the DA cited for not prosecuting the case are that the woman was not so drunk that she “appeared to have been affected to the point of perception or memory impairment,” that she was upset with her father for reporting the incident and that the taped conversations between the woman and the suspects “are consistent with suspect’s version of consensual sex, or at least their belief it was consensual sex.”

In addition to questioning the county DA’s choice not to prosecute, UO students and faculty alike are questioning whether the school’s growing sports culture is fostering a troubling rape culture.  At the center of the controversy over how the school handled the case — or didn’t — is Michael Gottfredson, a college president with a degree in criminology, who is being taken to task by faculty members including Jennifer Freyd, an expert in institutional betrayal and by controversial UO Matters blogger and professor Bill Harbaugh. According to Freyd’s research, institutional betrayal is when wrongdoings are perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution.

Coach Altman has said he was aware of the UO investigation but not that it was for rape or who was involved. He has also said he didn’t realize Austin’s suspension from Providence College was due to an investigation for sexual assault. Gottfredson, on the other hand, said he did know the names of the players before the NCAA tournament. 

The UO has cited not jeopardizing the police investigation as a reason for not preventing Artis and Dotson from playing. However, police spokesperson Melinda McLaughlin told The Oregonian “Police are not going to be concerned about who participates in a sporting event.”

Freyd, a psychology professor, is a nationally known expert on institutional betrayal, and author of the 2013 book Blind to Betrayal. She recently was invited to Washington, D.C., to discuss her research with the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. As a member of the UO Coalition to End Sexual Violence she has questioned the school’s handling of the case — citing the lack of a UO Police Department log entry about the rape when it was reported and the lack of a federally mandated alert to the broader campus about the incident. 

Freyd and the coalition have demanded a “public apology from the university administration for lying about the university’s failure to act on a reported sexual assault.”

In a letter to UOPD’s communications director Kelly McIver and Chief Carolyn McDermed Freyd asks: “What about this case would not obviously be a matter of student safety: a report of sexual assault (involving one student who had a prior report) very near campus at a party with multiple UO students that was reported directly to the UOPD?”

In 2012, reports that the University of Montana had mishandled sexual assault allegations involving the football team led to the UM President Royce Engstrom firing the athletic director and the football coach. UM now has mandatory online training in preventing sexual harassment thanks to a federal settlement over the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination on campuses. The school’s vice president, who had been criticized for his handling of the case, stepped down as did the school’s longtime attorney. 

Engstrom told The Missoulian newspaper that the VP and counsel’s departures “were not prompted by the announcement this year of three major investigations of UM, its football program and its handling of sexual assaults.”

UO Matters has been weighing in and updating the case and monitoring who has been stepping down at the UO. Recent departures include university counsel Randy Geller, who stepped down April 21, and UO chief human resources officer Mark Yuran, which was announced April 16. UO Matters has also been documenting the problems with the UO’s Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, which is charged with communicating “between the athletics department and the campus-at-large.” Harbaugh has served on the committee and called for it to be more transparent on issues such as athletic program finances. 

Harbaugh, together with fellow UO professor, Nathan Tublitz, has proposed a faculty Senate resolution of no confidence in Gottfredson. 

The victim’s statement to the police said she attended the party where the sexual incidents first occurred because the UO basketball players were celebrating their “big win” against Arizona State.