Ohio State announce series of anti-sexual assault efforts

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an It's On Us event on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Biden was speaking about the importance of preventing sexual assault on college campuses. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an It's On Us event on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Biden was speaking about the importance of preventing sexual assault on college campuses. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio State University freshmen will undergo mandatory sexual violence awareness training beginning next year under one of several initiatives the university announced Thursday aimed at reducing sexual assaults on campus.

Other efforts include online training for all students beginning next week, the hiring of an additional sexual violence prevention coordinator and more advocates to support students.

“We are deeply concerned by sexual misconduct and relationship violence both at Ohio State and at institutions of higher learning across the nation,” said President Michael Drake. “Campuses must be safe places to learn and grow.”

Students, staff and faculty also will brainstorm new ways to prevent and respond to such misconduct and violence.

Vice President Joe Biden reinforced the initiatives during a stop at Ohio State on Thursday night. He is promoting national efforts to combat sexual assaults on campuses.

Biden asked more than 1,000 students packed into a university gymnasium to take the “It’s On Us” pledge to personally work to prevent sexual assault. He was introduced by “Hunger Games” star Josh Hutcherson, who flew with Biden from Los Angeles for the rally.

“Victory looks like when there’s not a single woman who’s abused who asks herself, ‘What did I do,'” Biden said.

A year ago, the U.S. Department of Education announced it was closing a four-year investigation into the university’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. That action followed the firing of marching band Director Jonathan Waters, who university investigators said ignored a “sexualized culture” of rituals and traditions.

As part of an agreement ending the federal inquiry, Ohio State said it would revise certain policies and review how it handled sexual violence and harassment complaints since the 2011-2012 school year.

At the time, the government said Ohio State demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment, although it identified some problems.

Some of the efforts announced Thursday are part of that agreement, but many are new, said university spokesman Chris Davey.

Those efforts, dubbed “Buckeyes ACT,” combine new programs with existing initiatives in three areas that give the program its acronym: action, counseling and training.

In combination with Buckeyes Got Your Back, an existing bystander intervention initiative, the university will appoint an additional sexual violence prevention coordinator and dedicate a team to investigating reports of student sexual misconduct and relationship violence.

Ohio State was one of 27 U.S. universities that participated in the Association of American Universities’ campus climate survey. The university will use those results, expected soon, to adjust Buckeyes ACT as needed. The university plans to survey students again in 2016 and 2017.

Ohio State also plans to partner with a local sexual assault hotline and increase the number of advocates in its Office of Student Life available for confidential group and individual counseling.

Next week, Ohio State will launch an online training course for students developed over the past year, followed by a separate online course for faculty, staff and volunteers. Sexual misconduct awareness training will become mandatory as part of first-year orientation during the next year.

Additional coursework for students covering sexual misconduct and relationship violence also is in the works.

Prior to the band scandal, the university in 2013 fired its head cheerleading coach and two assistant coaches over sexual harassment allegations.

Then in March, the head coach of the Ohio State University women’s hockey team resigned under threat of firing after an investigation said he sexually harassed players with repeated and inappropriate comments.

Associated Press White House Reporter Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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