COLLEGE
02/26/2013 01:12 pm ET

OSU Sexual Assault Task Force Finds School 'Misinterpreted' Federal Privacy Laws

Oklahoma State University "misinterpreted" federal privacy laws and was "misguided" in waiting nearly a month to alert campus and local authorities of alleged sexual misconduct on campus, but there was no cover-up attempt, a report from the task force investigating the case released Monday found.

OSU came under heavy scrutiny in December when local media discovered it took weeks for university officials to alert police about a student accused of several assaults.

OSU said federal privacy laws prevented school officials from telling local authorities, but the school "misinterpreted" these laws in public statements, the report found, and resisted the advice of the U.S. Department of Education.

Still, the task force concluded the university did not delay reporting the assaults "for any improper purpose," nor did officials violate any laws. "OSU was focused on protecting of all its students, including the victims," the report stated.

The task force was originally launched by the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents to help the university establish protocols to prevent a situation similar to the cover-up of sex abuse at Penn State University. It was expanded to include a review of OSU's handling of the alleged assaults there.

According to the task force report, OSU officials first learned on Nov. 7, 2012, from students involved with the FarmHouse fraternity that some of its members may have been the victims of sexual abuse by a senior member. Over the next few weeks, five students came forward and accused the same person, Nathan Cochran, of sexual misconduct. Although Cochran denied the charges, he was found responsible for sexual misconduct in four of the five complaints in a Nov. 30 hearing and received a three-year suspension and no-contact order.

But police did not learn of the alleged sexual misconduct until they were contacted by a reporter from The Daily O'Collegian, the OSU student newspaper. OSU did not send out campus safety reports regarding the incident, as mandated by the Clery Act, until Dec. 8 -- after a sixth person had come forward and said he, too, was assaulted by Cochran, according to the task force. That sixth person decided to file a report with police rather than the university. Cochran now faces four criminal counts of sexual battery, according to The Oklahoman.

While OSU maintains it told each alleged victim he could inform local police, the report found some of them did not recall being given that option.

The report recommends establishing an Independent Advocate position to ensure any sexual assault victim at OSU is "fully aware of all of his or her rights." The advocate would report directly to the Board of Regents, not campus officials.

The report also recommends mandatory "reporting to police of all sexual assaults when an institution first learns of their occurance." Each alleged FarmHouse victim interviewed by the task force said he felt OSU dealt with the reported assaults swiftly, but some supported the mandatory reporting requirement.

"We look forward to quickly implementing policy recommendations that the board approves," OSU President Burns Hargis said in a statement. "This administration is fully supportive of any changes and enhancements that will make our campus safer.”

The Board of Regents will put the task force's recommendations to a vote on Friday in a meeting on the OSU campus, The Oklahoman reports.

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