An Ohio State office that supports survivors of sexual assault is undergoing a review that has halted its services and spread the counseling to other entities. But this act is leaving many — females, in particular — wondering why the university paused the office altogether, and when it will return.
Ohio State’s Sexual Civility and Empowerment, an entity of the Office of Student Life, was initially put under review about six weeks ago, according to multiple students who worked within the office as advocates and support staff. The office runs sexual assault prevention programming such as “Buck-I-Care About Consent” and provides support resources to survivors. These resources include counseling, reporting and student conduct-related services.
SCE and Title IX faculty were asked to comment for this story, but referred to a university statement that did not include specifics on the date the review began.
The university said in the statement that other offices and services such as Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO), a rape crisis intervention program in Columbus, and Counseling and Consultation Service are working to provide care for any students who contact SCE during the review.However, there are two major worries this referral is causing for students: police involvement and inadequate help.
Some students wrongly view SCE as the only place to go for help without police involvement. In fact, SCE is legally obligated to report assaults to police — as is any organization alerted to felonious activity — but it does so through identifying survivors and assaulters as names like Jane and John Doe.
Other services such as the Title IX office on campus do the same if survivors do not want police involvement, said Rachel LaPointe, a former member of the university’s sexual violence committee who has worked with Title IX, SARNCO and SCE. This is done because Ohio law mandates that sexual assault must be reported to the police.
Additionally, LaPointe, a third-year in international studies, said SARNCO does not report the facts of the assault at all if the survivor does not want police involvement.
Another worry for students is CCS involvement in wake of the SCE review. The entity might not have people trained in helping sexual assault survivors or be trained in using language appropriate to the sensitive situation at hand, said Michaela Murphy, a second-year in social work and public affairs who has used both SCE and CCS as a resource.
Murphy said she initially contacted SCE after realizing CCS did not adequately meet her needs for support, such as counseling she received before the assault happened for unrelated health needs. She said SCE was the best source of help because if police and the university began a full-fledged investigation, she feared that people who know both her and the accused person would get angry at her and no longer speak to her.
Ohio State’s statement is the only information it has released regarding the review at this time, leading many students involved with sexual assault and empowerment offices throughout campus and the city to come forward with what they know — to get the message out there to students who might need help and won’t find it at SCE currently.
Murphy said she is questioning Ohio State’s care for sexual assault survivors because the university did not release a statement to the public when the review initially began.
“If this keeps going and they don’t tell any of us it just tells me that they don’t have the same regard for victims of sexual assault, survivors of sexual assault, that they do for anyone else on this campus,” she said.
LaPointe has spoken with Title IX and SARNCO leaders and has become familiar with the review. She said the office is under investigation because of criticisms of its practices, and the university’s intention is to evaluate SCE’s leadership and programs to build better collaboration with SARNCO.
“SARNCO is your best bet if you’re looking for healing,” she said.
A student and sexual assault survivor who wished to remain anonymous has been using SCE. They initially tried to find help through CCS and found it was “not as helpful.”
“SCE is really personal,” the student said, adding CCS covers a wider range of psychological issues while SCE specializes in sexual assault. The student found it difficult to schedule appointments with CCS, only being able to see their counselor about “once every three weeks.”
Murphy also explained that survivors of sexual assault might not want to seek police involvement because they do not want to relive the incident through interviews and speaking about their assaulter. The survivors might feel like their assault is not enough to garner police involvement, a feeling Murphy had when she reached out to SCE last year.
“It’s just one of those things. I chose not to report it because it wasn’t — at least to me it wasn’t that bad. It was just him being drunk and stupid and trying — he like got in bed with me,” Murphy said. “It was different for me doing that and there’s no way I ever would have gone to the police. I might have talked with someone about it who just knew so I could talk it through so I could try and figure out what had happened exactly to me.”
LaPointe, Undergraduate Student Government President Andrew Jackson and the university are adamant that the services in place of SCE will help assault survivors get the help they need, either through counseling or healing practices.
“The Ohio State University is committed to providing a safe and inclusive learning environment. We have an extensive system of programs for providing support and services for members of our community who experience sexual misconduct,” the university statement said.
“I believe that no matter whatever is happening with SCE, student needs are still being met,” Jackson said in an email. “Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio is still available and a great resource for survivors or those who need support, as well as Counseling and Consultation Services and are both available 24/7 for students who need them. If there are students who need support, you are still able to reach out and will be supported in whatever way you need from the university.”
Though other resources are available, students who work at SCE are frustrated by the university’s lack of communication.
Taylor Albright, a second-year in political science, works at SCE’s front desk. She was called into work Feb. 12 and sent to human resources to sort papers instead of performing her daily duties. The following week, SCE’s support and prevention staff were separated into two locations, she said. One support coordinator was put on paid leave. No students were coming into the office for help.
“I’m not stupid, I have eyes. I can observe what’s going on in this office. I can see that we’re not in our usual location,” Albright said, referring to the relocation she and other SCE staff have experienced since the review began.
Albright said the new ways of corresponding with resources — by being directed to the Title IX office — is not effective.
“I received phone calls of students that were in distress that have experienced sexual violence, and I’m no longer getting those calls,” Albright said. ”Those calls are going to a voicemail.”
The voicemail she referred to is Title IX’s. Some voicemails filling the office’s line are not getting responses, Murphy said.
The anonymous student said the same. They have been unable to contact their support counselor from SCE since the review began, and was told that someone from the Title IX office would contact them. They have not been contacted since receiving the email notification one month ago when they were told that their coordinator couldn’t see them because she had to focus on a program.
Albright records student information when survivors contact SCE and she forwards it to support staff. She said this method allows for students to be contacted within 24 hours of their initial contact.
Another benefit to SCE as opposed to SARNCO, LaPointe said, is its campus location. SCE’s location in a resident hall — Lincoln Tower — allows for it to be easily accessible to students without leaving campus.
Since beginning to use SCE last summer, the anonymous student said the counselors helped them “find the right way to cure the insecurity” that had developed from the assault. The student also said the services they used at SCE helped foster a healthier love life.
To the student, SCE is “not just a service. It’s more like a friend.”