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Ohio Attorney General Offers More Money To Combat Campus Sexual Assaults

Tom Borgerding
Katie Hanna, Executive Director, Ohio Alliance To End Sexual Violence, welcomes Ohio Attorney General's effort to combat campus sexual assaults.

Ohio's top law enforcement officer pledges $3-million to combat campus sexual assaults.  The money will be used for competitive grants to allow universities to strengthen advocacy programs for survivors of rape, including training for campus police.

Attorney General Mike DeWine told a Columbus State Community College audience he wants to clear up any confusion.   

"Universities and colleges are not separate enclaves out of the criminal justice system. They're part of it."  

Federal law requires colleges and universities to report incidents of sexual assault. The school then must start a civil disciplinary inquiry.  But, not all allegations reported by campus administrators are referred to local police.

"Survivors are not required to also report to local law enforcement," says Katie Hanna. Hanna, heads of  the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. She  says there  good reason to give rape survivors the choice whether to bring criminal allegations.

"It's that survivor's decision to decide when they report , who they report to because there could be safety risks that we need to really attend to. It may not be safe for them if it's in a domestic violence case for them to report at that time," says Hanna.   

As part of a plan to clarify campus and law enforcement responses to rape allegations. DeWine proposes written memos of understanding between police and campus administrators. The memos would define both university and law enforcement roles when a sexual assault is reported.

"Normally, when you have civil versus criminal and you do an investigation criminal turns to the other side and says 'stop.' And after we're done with the criminal investigation then you can kick in and do whatever you want to do," says DeWine.

But, colleges lack that flexibility to suspend their disciplinary investigations of campus rape reports. Smith says the written agreements between law enforcement and universities will clarify options for rape survivors.

"In terms of making sure that students have access to confidential advocates is to make sure that they know on a campus, here are the people I can go to that are confidential, here are the people that are required to report and when it is reported what happens to that information," says Hanna.

Hanna adds that sexual assault victims often suffer in silence for lack of knowledge of their legal rights. She cites a survey by her organization of some survivors of sexual assault. Many expressed reluctance to report allegations if required to involve police.

"What we heard from survivors is that that would actually lessen reports. That they would feel less likely to make that report,"  adds Hanna.

Hanna says federal statistics fail to indicate whether rapes are under-reported on U.S. campuses.  DeWine says speeding campus and police investigations are crucial when addressing campus sexual assaults.