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Oklahoma State Sexual Assault Reporting To Be Reviewed By University Task Force

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It took nearly a month for Oklahoma State University officials to tell police that a single student had been accused by several others of sexual assault, prompting confusion and outrage over the lengthy delay.

On Thursday, OSU President Burns Hargis announced he asked the Board of Regents' task force to review the school's handling of the sexual assault complaints. The task force was formed in July to review school policies and ensure a situation like the Sandusky scandal at Penn State does not unfold at OSU.

Hargis said in a statement that OSU "cannot leave any doubt that we are indeed properly and appropriately handling sexual misconduct allegations," Tulsa World reports.

Former OSU student Nathan Cochran, 22, was formally charged last week with three felony counts of sexual battery and is being held in jail with a bail set at $100,000. He has pleaded not guilty.

Although the university began an investigation into allegations against Cochran on Nov. 12, local police were not informed until Dec. 7, after the campus newspaper, The Daily O'Collegian, began reporting a former FarmHouse fraternity member had allegedly committed more than 10 sexual assaults on at least five men. Police say they've spoken with six potential victims, but believe there may be dozens more.

OSU claims school officials were restricted from notifying police of the charges due to the Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act, but that law contains exemptions in the case of a threat to students' health or safety.

Stillwater Police Capt. Randy Dickerson told the Stillwater NewsPress he was "stunned" by OSU's explanation of why the university didn't tell police five students had filed sexual assault complaints against the same student.

"The decision to notify law enforcement at that time was certainly available to Oklahoma State University through exceptions in FERPA," Dickerson said. "They made the decision not to notify police, which is their call to make, however; to attempt to justify this by saying this man is not a threat to other students is quite honestly, a huge misunderstanding of this case."

A Twitter account, @NotOkState, was started last week to mock OSU's failure to notify authorities of the sexual assault reports. Its bio reads: "Because not telling the police about sexual assault is Not OK."

The Twitter account's anonymous jabs join criticism from observers both inside and outside the university. Joey Senat, a journalism professor at the school and a First Amendment expert, told the Associated Press university officials aren't equipped to handle this type of crime.

"They're not qualified to investigate crimes, much less sexual assault investigations," Senat said. "You've got unqualified people meeting in secret over some serious crimes."

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, wrote in a Huffington Post blog post that this case demonstrates why universities shouldn't handle sexual assault claims.

"Campus disciplinary processes ought to be adjudicating plagiarism and library fines and basically nothing else. The idea that these processes could be used to meaningfully adjudicate claims of sexual assault is a joke," Goldstein wrote. "Universities don't have prisons. The only thing a university conduct board can create when finding a claim of sexual assault has merit is a rapist with free time on his hands."

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