Youngstown collaboration works to tackle on-campus sex assaults

Just seven sexual assault complaints were investigated by YSU Police since 2011. Kent State investigated 49.

Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Sexual assault reports aren’t common on Youngstown State University’s campus, but those who counsel rape victims say the incidents are likely under-reported.

Just seven sexual assault complaints were investigated by YSU Police since 2011. All of those reports were unfounded or resolved without resulting in charges.

At Kent State University, police investigated 49 complaints of sex assault or public indecency during that same time period. Those reports resulted in 11 people being charged. In many cases, the victim decided not to press criminal charges as the investigation began.

Dawn Powell, a rape crisis counselor at COMPASS Community and Family Services, said victims refusing to come forward or press charges are common in rape or sexual assault investigations. She believes the number of sexual assaults occurring on campus is probably more common.

“I believe that it’s under-reported by victims. A lot of it is because they feel like nothing will happen with the information they come forward with,” she said.

Powell works with COMPASS’s Rape Crisis and Counseling Center, which provides advocacy and support to sexual assault victims. The agency works with YSU to prevent sexual assaults and encourage those who are victimized to come forward.

Nationally, 91 percent of colleges reported receiving no rape reports in 2014, according to an American Association of University Women study.

Because local leaders believe that number is misrepresented, Ohio colleges and universities are now participating state-administered survey intended to gather information for improving sexual violence prevention and response on campuses.

Youngstown State University is one of those college campuses participating in the study.

Results released Thursday, gathered by the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Changing Campus Culture initiative, showed that known sexual assaults were the highest among public university students, although community-technical college students reported being most confident their institutions will take the survey seriously.

Thirty-three percent of public universities, compared with 40 percent of private universities, reported that they’ve completed training on sexual assault-related policies.

Cynthia Kravitz, director of equal opportunity and policy development and Title 9 coordinator at YSU, said the university and COMPASS have worked together for some time, but the Changing Campus Culture initiative put more emphasis on such cooperation.

Through the 2015 State budget, the Department of Higher Education was charged with developing best practices for preventing and responding to campus sexual assault. A total of $2 million was distributed for that study.

On Friday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also announced 29 Ohio rape crisis centers, including Compass Family and Community Services, would be be given more than $1.4 million in grant funding to provide support to rape victims.

Powell called the problem “an epidemic.”

It’s difficult to quantify just how many college students will become a victim of sexual assault, since experts say many victims do not report the assaults. Some studies say as many as one in five women are sexually assaulted on campus.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), sexual violence is the most common crime reported on campus. College women are two times more likely to be sexually assaulted than robbed. Women report two sexual assaults for every one robbery on campus, while nationwide, there are five women robbed for every four sexually assaulted.

Kravitz said she believes strides have been made at the university to make victims more comfortable with reporting assaults, however.

Campus sexual assault statistics

“I think people are becoming more in tune to what sexual assault is, what consent is, how as a bystander they can help… and there are more and more support services for victims,” she said.

Powell said there is still more to be done to combat the problem, and incidents like the Stanford rape case set her work back.

Twenty-year-old Brock Turner, a former student-athlete at Stanford University, was sentenced earlier this month to six months in jail for the rape of an unconscious woman. The judge said a longer prison sentence would have “a severe impact” and “adverse collateral consequences” on Turner.

“I myself was very discouraged when I heard the results of the Stanford case. I think that it set us back big time, in terms of looking at how to get victims that want to come forward,” Powell said. “Because if you look at your lifetime of pain after a result of a traumatic experience and the fact that the perpetrator gets six months in jail, that kind of makes you not even want to do anything about that.”

Reporting is critical, according to Kravitz and Powell. They, along with YSU’s Associate Vice President of Student Experience Eddie Howard have been working with campus organizations to educate on- and off-campus students about sexual assault.

“We want to make sure that all of our students, regardless of where they live, understand the importance of knowing how not to become a victim and how to help us identify those who may be victims [but] are afraid to come forward,” Howard said.

Part of that outreach work includes talking to incoming students and their parents about the issue. If a rape is reported to authorities, YSU and COMPASS offer counseling and other services to the victim.

Howard said the university also launched a campaign this year to reach male students. The program teaches them how to recognize sexual harassment and signs of assault.

“I think the biggest challenge is, at least in my mind, is that you still have the stigma of folks not wanting to come forward because they don’t wanna communicate on a friend or feel like they’re ratting somebody out about what’s going on,” Howard said.

Those investigating sexual assault reports, especially those on campus, say a major issue is alcohol consumption. Powell said 80 percent of sexual assault cases involve alcohol. Kravitz says it is the main date rape drug.

YSU students are urged to use caution when drinking, not leave their drinks unattended and watch others who look like they don’t know what’s going on, Howard said.

A 2004 study on the correlation between rape and intoxication of college women in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found that one in 20 women reported being raped in college, and nearly 72 percent of those rapes happened when the victims were so intoxicated that they were unable to consent or refuse.

Kravitz said heavy drinking can cause uncertainties regarding consent.

“You have to be very careful when you’re drinking. If you’re accused of being someone who engages in a sexual assault, whether you were under the influence or not does not mitigate your responsibility,” she said.

Powell said while drinking can make women or men more vulnerable, it is important to recognize that the victim is never at fault.

“You know, when people think of prevention, they look at the fact of what the victim can do to stop this from happening. People look at what they wore, what they had on, what were the dynamics of why this occurred,” she said. “The reason why this occurred is because of a rapist. It has really nothing to do with the actual victim. Keep in mind, this is an issue of power and control.”

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, you’re encouraged to call police or the university. Powell said victims can also contact COMPASS for support. The agency’s Rape Crisis and Counseling Center, located on Marmion Avenue in Youngstown, offers a 24-hour hotline, hospital and justice system advocacy as well as support groups for sexual assault victims.

The Rape Crisis and Counseling Center can be reached at 330-782-3936.

Campus sexual assault statistics

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