As if there weren't enough loopholes that make it difficult for victims of sexual assault on college campuses to file claims against their attackers, here's another: in doing so, victims could risk exposing their private medical records, as happened with an unidentified University of Oregon student whose files are now in the hands of the school's attorney.
The student suing the school got therapy at the university's health clinic. In preparing to defend itself against her complaint, the university got access to those records and sent them to its attorney.
Kelsey Jones, 21, is a student at the University of Oregon who works with the student-run Organization Against Sexual Assault. She says the case has shaken students' confidence in the mental health care they receive on campus; she, for one, won't seek care at the campus clinic.
"It's very concerning for a lot of people," Jones says. "It's ten times harder now to seek that help and feel safe and feel OK to share 100 percent of what you're feeling."
But because of a law called FERPA, or Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the school's move is technically legal, if unjust.
Under FERPA, at a health clinic run by a university or college, the school has a legal right to get access to student medical records — if they're relevant for a legal defense. That may come as a surprise to anyone who assumes that doctor-patient privilege is the same regardless of where the care is received.
Gonzaga Law School professor Lynn Daggett, another FERPA specialist, agrees that the university is within its rights. The situation allows universities to avoid an important legal process, she says, simply because the therapist is a university employee.
In other words: when the student sought counseling for emotional distress after her alleged attacks, she assumed (as most people seeking therapy would/do) that the discussions with the university's counselor were held in confidence—but they weren't, because of the nature of the claim. And now, the school is using her own medical records against her, which is just so shitty.
Image via AP