‘I did not feel safe’: Oregon High School senior says police, school mishandled her sexual assault report

Editor’s note: This story deals with child sexual assault. If you need help, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673.

OREGON, Wis. — The Oregon Police Department says it’s investigating a sexual assault report at the Oregon High School after a senior posted a video to YouTube earlier this week calling out both police and the school’s handling of her report of sexual assault three years ago.

“I want my story to make you put yourself in my shoes,” the victim said in the opening, who identified herself as Bry and gave News 3 permission to use her name and video. The nearly 11-minute video, which has picked up more than 6,300 views online, covers the assault, the administrative and police response, and the trauma she experienced in the aftermath.

“If you’ve never had a traumatic experience happen to you, it’s hard to understand.”

In the video, Bry says she was sexually assaulted three years ago as a freshman, but was afraid at first to speak out. Once she learned later in the same school year that her abuser had done the same thing to another girl, Bry says she sought out the school counselor, who brought her to the school resource officer to report the assault.

During the conversation, Bry said she needed time to consider pressing charges. But when she came back a week later to tell the SRO she wanted to go forward with charges, she says he told her it was then too late to do so.

In the same conversation, Bry said that the officer said her abuser probably slept worse than her at night because he “felt guilty”.

“The officer basically told me that I sleep better [than her abuser] at night, so I should just be happy. I should just get over it,” Bry explained. “I want the school to wake up. I want people to know that people who get assaulted or raped, they don’t just get over it.”

A review of archived web pages indicates Kevin Gowan was listed as the Oregon Police Department’s school resource officer during the school year the victim cited; the victim called the officer “Officer G” in the video. He is currently listed as a detective with the department.

In a statement, Oregon Police Chief Jennifer Pagenkopf–who was not the chief when the incident occurred–said their officers received specialized training for crimes against children and best practices in investigating sexual assaults.

In her video, Bry said she didn’t feel like the training had been properly used in the handling of the case.

“The school resource officer most likely did not understand his training, did not provide me support, built a negative relationship with me, did not respect my rights to press charges, and finally, he did not improve the overall climate of the school,” the victim stated, referencing the expectations of a SRO as listed in the school contract.

Active investigation

“I am cognizant of the great anguish a victim goes through, and we strive to be supportive, respectful, and dignified in our treatment of them,” Chief Pagenkopf noted.

While Pagenkopf wouldn’t comment on or release the case reports, calling it an active criminal investigation and citing privacy and victim considerations, she referenced the timing of reports when considering the investigation of sexual assault cases. In the video, the victim said she reported the incident while she was still a freshman–the same year she was assaulted.

“Our agency and our officers stand ready and willing to work with a victim at any time that the victim chooses to cooperate,” Pagenkopf said in a statement.

“With that said, our law enforcement investigative process and protecting the interests of the victim are always best served when the victim contacts us as soon as possible after the event occurs so that we may provide important assistance to the victim and so that we may investigate the matter and preserve the integrity of the evidence, witness information, and other details for purposes of effectively investigating and for prosecuting an offender.”

When asked why the investigation was active currently when it was first reported three years ago, Chief Pagenkopf said these types of investigations sometimes start with information gathering and then, for various reasons, the investigation may be put on pause or ended, based on various factors.

“If new information comes to our attention, we are certainly willing and committed to reinvigorate an investigation or initiate a more formal investigation into the matter.”

School Response

The Oregon School District declined an interview to answer questions about the case or their application of sexual assault policies, citing legal and ethical responsibilities to protect student privacy.  However, they said they were aware of the video circulating online.

“We are aware of the recent video shared via YouTube and social media,” Oregon school district spokesperson Erika Mundinger said in an email to News 3. “When we receive reports of sexual assault, we quickly investigate in accordance with district policies, refer to the appropriate authorities and offer continued support for survivors, including partnering with mental health professionals and the Rape Crisis Center.”

In the video, the victim said the school administration was aware of the issue, and that school administrators told her abuser at the time that “No means no”.

“They taught him a kindergarten lesson, and then sent him on his way back to his next class. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory about how I felt about this,” Bry said.

Later, she says she was seated next to her abuser in class, and experienced an anxiety attack that nobody noticed. After that, she says the school made her switch classes, instead of her abuser. The victim related feeling victimized and retraumatized after reporting, with students and others making rape jokes, calling her a liar, saying it was her fault, and asking her what she was wearing.

“The way the school and the police handled my case was almost as traumatizing as the assault that occurred,” she said. “I want to be very clear that I did not feel safe in school, and I still don’t.”

The school district said they encouraged families to visit OregonSD.org/talk for additional resources on talking to students about sexual assault, and urged students to report to trusted adults or the Rape Crisis Center at 608-251-7273.

“We know the pain survivors carry with them lasts a lifetime, and they can often feel alone, even with all the supports in place,” Mundinger said.

For Bry, her purpose is to stand up as a voice for others, and to find healing as she moves forward.

“I want to tell my story out loud.” Bry said, saying the school had prevented her from sharing her story in front of the school. “Fill it with all the emotions that I feel, and let the audience see how this issue affects people. That is what is powerful, that is what can make a difference and change the culture at our school.”

Photojournalist Lance Heidt contributed to this report.

Investigative reporter Naomi Kowles can be reached anonymously at nkowles@wisctv.com. Consider reaching out if you wish to share your story, or have information about how sexual assault cases have been handled in this or other south central Wisconsin school and police districts.

This post was updated with additional information from the Oregon Police Department after publishing.