Ohio State University is closing its Sexual Civility and Empowerment office after allegations that the unit mishandled student complaints of sexual assault, Dayton Daily News reports. A statement from the University released in February, when the office’s duties were suspended, noted concerns that the unit was “mismanaged” and “not properly supporting victims.”
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Opened in 2015, the Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit was created as part of a broader initiative to tackle sexual misconduct on campus. Its mission, the website says, is to “inspir[e] students to intervene, health, and interrupt patterns of personal behavior,” through survivor advocacy and various sexual and relationship violence initiatives.
But according to a team of “independent auditing specialists,” the office failed to fully document and report information pertaining to student complaints of sexual violence. Moreover, investigators found that some students who reported misconduct were told that they were making it up or delusional.
Some were subjected to traumatic treatment methods, but there are few details on what these therapies actually were.
Problems also went in the other direction. According to a complaint filed by the OhioHealth Sexual Assault Response Network, some survivors who turned to the unit were told to “embellish” their stories because “their real experience wasn’t serious enough” to constitute an actionable offense.
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A trove of documents obtained by the Columbus Dispatch show how the Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit was riven by internal discord. One former employee struck out against Natalie Spiert, the office’s assistant director, for discouraging workers at the center from working in partnership with other campus divisions, including the Title IX office.
Four positions from the former office have already been eliminated; the employees who once filled them have been fired. On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey wrote that a wide array of incidents were “not reported to police or the university in a timely fashion.”
The University has partnered with Pennsylvania-based law firm Cozen O’Connor to develop new strategies to shore up the school’s compliance with federal and Ohio State regulations, which mandate the reporting of certain sexual crimes that occur on or near campus to the proper authorities. A new program to replace the Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit should be opened by the fall semester.
And that change can’t come soon enough for many students. Around 60 student organizations have openly called for a new office within the university to serve as a central resource center for sexual assault survivors. In the meantime, Ohio State employees are reaching out to any students who contacted the Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit in the past to make sure that they received adequate support.
University President Michael Drake is committed to becoming a “national leader in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct.” “Our campuses must be safe places for all members of our community to learn, work and grow,” Drake said in a statement released on Tuesday.