The Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit was dissolved by Ohio State on Tuesday. Credit: Lantern File Photo

Ohio State University announced on Tuesday that it was closing its Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit following an external review.

SCE, which helps survivors of sexual assault, has been suspended since February amid review. The report, which Ohio State received on May 28, found SCE had failed to properly document and report information regarding some sexual assault complaints made by students.

Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor has been enlisted by Ohio State following the dissolution of SCE and to work to develop a new student-support program, as well as assess the university’s compliance and suggest enhancements in relation to federal laws. Changes will be in place by the start of fall semester according to a statement from Ohio State.

“Ohio State will do all that we can to be a national leader in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct,” Ohio State University President Michael Drake said in a statement. “Our campuses must be safe places for all members of our community to learn, work and grow. We remain steadfastly and unwaveringly committed to this goal.”

In a review of documents related to the closure of SCE by The Lantern, a pattern of bullying, preferential treatment and lying was present among those in charge.

Jill Davis, a former support coordinator in charge of prevention efforts at SCE, outlined what she felt was bullying by then-coordinator and now assistant director of SCE, Natalie Spiert. Davis made these claims in a report to Ohio State’s human resources department in 2016.

Davis said Spiert, who was on the same level as a fellow support coordinator, tried to create a power dynamic from her first day, criticizing Davis’s predecessor Michelle Bangen, exaggerating her own abilities and openly commenting about the eventuality of her running SCE.

“Both Natalie [Spiert] and Karen [Kyle] knowingly gave me false and disparaging information about campus and community colleagues … I believe they were attempting to convince me not to work with them and wanted to control my interactions on campus and within the community.”—Jill Davis, former support coordinator at SCE

Davis reported feeling worried about what Spiert was saying in meetings while representing SCE, citing examples where Spiert claimed receiving training she had not, and in one instance, during a presentation to all the coaches in the athletics Department, telling the coaches she knew they would “go home and beat their wives.” Furthermore, she refused to follow evidence-based plans in lieu of her own expertise when she had graduated from graduate school in 2015.

Davis also noted that Spiert worked to undermine collaboration efforts with outside entities, telling Davis not to work cooperatively with the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO), Student Conduct and Title IX Coordinator Kellie Brennan.

“Both Natalie [Spiert] and Karen [Kyle] knowingly gave me false and disparaging information about campus and community colleagues,” Davis said in her report to Ohio State HR after her resignation in 2016. “I believe they were attempting to convince me not to work with them and wanted to control my interactions on campus and within the community.”

Davis, who began documenting her experiences at SCE shortly after starting there, also outlined the enabling of Spiert’s behavior by Karen Kyle, director of the Student Advocacy Center, and boss of both Spiert and Davis.

Davis said that Kyle would switch between acknowledging her concerns and scolding them in support of Spiert, at one point bringing up Davis’s family to say Davis was projecting her issues onto Spiert.

Davis resigned and went on to become a campus prevention coordinator at SARNCO. In her report to HR after leaving for SARNCO she said she had heard from students who had excellent experiences with SCE while others “reported being bullied, blamed for their assault and said they did not receive any help at all, that they continue to see their perpetrator on campus.”

Ultimately, Davis relayed her concerns about SCE moving forward under Spiert and Kyle.

“I feel great concern for Natalie’s ability to provide appropriate and ethical support for students
given her judgement, her treatment of staff and students, her level of training and knowledge,” Davis said in a written statement. “I also have great concern for Karen’s ability to oversee and manage the SCE program given her relationship with Natalie, her lax management of staff and her limited experience and knowledge of sexual violence prevention and response.”

Concerns about SCE

Within the documents released by the university also included written complaints and concerns about the SCE program led under Kyle and Spiert.

In the document regarding the concerns about SCE, it was reported to SARNCO staff by survivors of sexual violence, Ohio State community members and SARNCO advocates that SCE had “a lasting and alarming history of unethical, controlling, victim blame and re-traumatizing treatment.”

Claims included that SCE had told those using the services various things, including that they were “lying,” “delusional,” “suffering from mental illness,” “have an active imagination,” that they “didn’t understand their own experience” and also “fabricated their story.”

People were also told that they would not receive support for reasons such as they were not “deemed ‘credible,’” that they demonstrated they were not “ready to heal,” that they would not “disclose the identity of the perpetrator” and because they “refused to work with a psychotherapist and/or participate in ‘co-treatment’ with [an] SCE advocate.”

Other reports to SARNCO included that SCE told survivors that they should embellish their stories to receive justice or legal protection and that a mother was told by SCE that parental involvement is harmful to sexual assault survivors.

In addition to what people who used the program said about SCE, the report also included concerns about SCE advocate training and concerns about its prevention programming.

Complaints were filed that not all SCE advocates had received the SARNCO 40-hour training, even though they had claimed they had. Furthermore, they required sexual assault survivors to meet regularly with the advocates and that the advocates also compelled survivors to participate in their medical research, which included swabbing the mouths of people during advocacy meetings.

In terms of its programming, concerns said that SCE taught rape as “a miscommunication which can be prevented by teaching respectful communication, civility in the community and sexual pleasure,” saying that the program reinforced rape myths and victim blame in its program content.

This included labeling alcohol intoxication as a “proceed with caution [for sexual activity],” characterizing sexual violence as “mistakes” and “the result of ignorance” and likening sexual violence survivors to drug addicts.

The concerns listed in the report came from reports to SARNCO by survivors, co-survivors and community members.

Another document contained an anonymous hotline web report with concerns on the availability of SCE staff members — specifically SCE prevention coordinator Tiffany Dyer — and how it was likely that Spiert and Kyle were allowing the lack of availability.

“Tiff Dyer has worked 4 day weeks for at least a year and she has every Friday off,” the anonymous report said. “She is a full time employee but does not work full time hours. If she has some arrangement to work 10 hour days, I have tried to contact her many times after 5pm and [she is] never available.”

The anonymous reporter also said they knew someone who was raped but could not get a meeting with an SCE staff member unless they joined a research study on rape victims.

There were, however, pleas from those who SCE had helped, as well as a signed letter from 50-plus student organizations that questioned the university’s silence and the lack of survivor-specific resources during the time of SCE’s suspension.

Despite SCE’s closure, the university said in a written statement that it would still maintain an “extensive system for providing student support and services,” citing alternatives to the SCE such as Counseling and Consultation Services, the Student Advocacy Center, the Student Wellness Center and Student Health Services. It also mentioned resources outside the university, including SARNCO and the Mount Carmel Crime and Trauma Assistance Program.

This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. to include a correction that the letter from the student organizations did not ask for a reinstatement of SCE, but questioned the university’s lack of transparency on the situation. 

Updated at 8:20 p.m. to clarify that concerns in report were as reported to SARNCO. Previous version indicated the university had concluded they were true.