“This is a huge problem, but people don’t take it seriously because sexual assault isn’t clearly defined.”
That response, from a survey conducted by the Undergraduate Student Government to assess the climate and knowledge of sexual assault at Ohio State, sums up the results of the Sexual Violence Task Force’s findings.
USG conducted 634 student surveys asking various questions about sexual assault and gauging how well-known OSU’s sexual assault assistance programs are. The Sexual Violence Task Force that conducted the surveys determined that there are some things OSU does well, but the university also has a long way to go.
Sarah Hudacek, the deputy director of academic affairs for USG and a second-year in public affairs, said she thought it was important for USG to talk about sexual violence and release the report.
“We speak for the student body, particularly on issues when the student body can’t speak for themselves and with an issue as sensitive as sexual violence when people might be afraid of stepping up and saying something, I think it’s important that we speak for them and that they have the ability to speak through us,” said Hudacek, who also served as the co-chair of the task force.
About 82 percent of students said they had heard monthly or more frequently about sexual violence cases on or around campus from media outlets, campus safety notices or other presentations, but few knew about the services OSU offers.
More than 38 percent of the surveyed students reported that someone “fondled, kissed or rubbed up against the private areas of their body or removed their clothing against their wishes” and 8 percent of students reported that they were sexually penetrated against their wishes.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter issue,” Hudacek said. “It happens to so many different kinds of people in so many different ways and we wanted to emphasize that and that kind of shows through in our report.”
Of those who were sexually assaulted, 75 percent said their perpetrator caught them off guard, or ignored non-verbal cues or facial expressions, and 56 percent said their perpetrator took advantage of them “when they were too drunk, high, asleep, or in a poor state of consciousness,” according to the report.
After reviewing the surveys, USG applauded some of OSU’s sexual assault initiatives, but it also called on the university to do more to help those students who are sexually assaulted.
Specifically, the task force said OSU has “blazed the trail in addressing sexual violence proactively” with its Buckeyes Got Your Back program, which encourages students to look out for their friends and others by doing something if they see something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
The program aims to stop the bystander effect, which occurs when people see an emergency event, like a potential sexual assault or sexual harassment, but don’t do anything to help prevent it. The more people are around, the more they assume someone else will do something, and the bystander effect gets worse.
USG’s task force also said the university needed more staff members who exclusively focus on sexual violence education and support. It praised the hiring of another member to the team, but said because OSU only has three full-time staff members (not counting faculty or staff who are also trained in SVES but do other things), they are each responsible for 21,623 students.
About one in four women are sexually assaulted while they’re college students, according to USG’s It’s On Us Campaign, which also aims to combat the bystander effect. Given that statistic, the three full-time faculty members are each responsible for 5,405 students in need of help, the report said.
OSU has the second-lowest staff levels per capita among 15 other institutions of similar size.
Perhaps the biggest change USG called for was a comprehensive Center for Sexual Violence Education and Support. The task force said the resources OSU offers are too spread out and that students often don’t know where to go to find them. They suggested that creating a center would help alleviate these problems.
“With so many, it’s not really clear for someone who’s just been assaulted as to where to start,” said USG President Celia Wright, a fourth-year in public health. “(A center) would really help us as a university to streamline that.”
The report also called on OSU to create an “Affirmative Consent Policy” to “address confusion about how consent and rape is defined.”
At least one student who answered the survey said they didn’t know what constituted permission, and USG was inspired by seven of the 23 universities it examined that had a similar policy.
Hudacek said the plans the task force outlined could continue for the next USG president and staff.
“It’s a game plan really, a road map for where we should go in the future,” she said.
USG also asked for amnesty for those who are assaulted while they are drinking underage and recommended adding sexual violence consent and training into all mandatory freshman survey courses. Beginning last summer, OSU first-year orientation sessions included a video discussing sexual violence, but only 31 percent of surveyed freshmen remembered the video.
The task force also asked for more “robust outreach for men, specifically” after some survey responses suggested that men were apprehensive to talk if they were sexually assaulted.
Many students thought wait times were longer for counseling services than they actually were, so the report’s final suggestions included publicizing wait times and allowing there to be free sessions for sexual assault beyond the 10 free sessions all students receive.
Wright said the report has been mentioned by OSU President Michael Drake already and that because his former school, University of California-Irvine, had been at the forefront in many of the categories USG examined, she was excited to see what could happen in the future.
“This is the first year that USG took this issue on and I’m so glad that we did. It’s a growing problem nationally and one we couldn’t continue to ignore,” Wright said.