By Katie Dobbs
Beginning this semester, Sexual Assault Response Allies (SARA) will become a confidential resource for survivors of sexual or domestic violence.
This means that anyone associated with the University can speak with a SARA member about an experience they had and SARA is not required to report the incident or the conversation.
While SARA is now confidential and not required to report a sexual or domestic violence survivor’s name or any details about their situation to the University, they are required to report the number of calls they receive to Director of Bishop Wellness Center Margaret Trout.
Those numbers are published in the Clery Act report on the University’s website. The Clery Act, a federal statute created in 1990, requires that all universities or colleges that receive financial aid from the federal government keep track of and disclose all crime on the campus or in the surrounding area.
According to Willamette’s Clery Act report, the number of reported forcible sexual offenses on or near the University’s campus increased from two in 2008 to 13 in 2012.
SARA coordinator and Atkinson Graduate School of Management student Cynthia Chand said that shethinks making SARA conidential will be a positive change.
“The number of reports will not decrease on campus because SARA is confidential,” Chand said. “The only shift I see happening is that more people will reach out.”
According to the organization’s website, SARA is a “network of trained, unbiased peer advocates who provide confidential support, resources, and education to all members of the Willamette University community who have experienced sexual or domestic harassment, assault, or violence.”
SARA was founded in 2006 after four students were inspired by a guest speaker’s story about a peer support group. They gathered volunteers and trained with organizations such as the Center for Hope and Safety, Bishop Wellness Center and the District Attorney’s Office Victims Assistance Division.
When SARA was created, its members were confidential resources on campus. Trout said that SARA members became mandatory reporters after the University updated its Title IX policies.
Prior to SARA becoming confidential this year, the non-mandatory reporters on campus consisted of a few counselors at Bishop Wellness Center and two University chaplains.
Director of Educational Equity Assurance and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Cynthia Stinson said that making SARA confidential will expand the amount of people on campus who are not mandatory reporters.
“Students can just talk to them about what happened and they can get support and resources from the SARA’s who can give them other options,” Stinson said.
SARA is making other changes this year as well, such as implementing community SARA members who are assigned to live in various residence halls and being more available to offcampus students and graduate students. Additionally, a SARA member is now oncall every day.
“SARA’s want to be more accessible to students,” Trout said. “They are really embedding themselves in our physical space in a different way.”