Efforts to curb sex crimes at Ohio University questioned after young woman speaks out

    A freshman Ohio University student who reported a rape in the fall wants to send a strong message to the University about sex crimes, saying she doesn't believe the issue is taken seriously (WSYX/WTTE)

    The start of 2019 kicked off a new semester at Ohio University and a fresh start for one freshman student who, just three months earlier, says she was raped by another student. It was just one of several rapes reported during the fall semester.

    "I think that as a freshman you come to college and you want to fit in, so you try to go out like everybody else," the young woman said.

    The student asked that we hide her identity, but wanted to send a strong message to the university. "I just think that sexual assault needs to be taken more seriously around here with like everybody - people just kind of blowing it off."

    Her emotional trauma came, as it did for other Ohio University women, in the first couple months of the school year. She hasn't spoken publicly about her case until now.

    "Sometimes I think I shouldn't have gone out that night," she said. The freshman student wasn't planning on going out that Friday night of October 19, 2018, but decided to meet up with friends, because she says everyone was going.

    She says she left her room at Ohio University's Boyd Hall around 8:00 p.m. and remembers going to two fraternity parties, where she says drinks flowed from sports coolers. An Ohio University police report states her first stop was a house at 51 Mill Street, and an hour and a half later she walked with friends next door to 45 Mill Street.

    "At the second party, they got it (drinks) for you, but I didn't really think anything of it," the young woman said.

    Police records show she had two solo cups of a drink called jungle juice. The party drink is often made with Everclear, vodka, or other liquor along with Kool aid or juice. The last thing she remembers is enjoying herself at the party. She says she has no idea how she ended up back at Boyd Hall - almost a mile away - outside in the rain.

    "A girl found me outside of my dorm, laying on the ground, wearing not much clothing, and she brought me inside to her room," the young woman recalls.

    Near the end of 2018, the young woman invited the ABC 6 On Your Side Investigates crew in to her dorm room. It's a walk up several flights to where she says she was raped by another Ohio University student.

    "I found two used condoms, one on my floor and one on my desk in my dorm room," she said.

    She says she didn't know the young man, but found a strange number in her phone after that night, so she sent a text message. "I asked him if he walked me home, he said yes. I asked if he had sex with me and he said yes," the young woman recalled.

    In her case, Ohio University police interviewed a suspect. Because no one has been charged in the case, ABC 6 is not naming the young man.

    According to the police report, the student admitted to drinking jungle juice and smoking marijuana before the two met. He also reportedly told police the young woman had trouble focusing after having sex the first time, and she was a happy drunk and did not pass out during the time he was with her. The student also told police he smoked a dab after the second time they had sex.

    When asked by ABC 6 if she felt like she was drugged that night, the young woman said she believes she was. She also shared messages on her cell phone from a group text, illustrating a frantic grasp for help. In the messages, friends ask if she's okay. She replies she is, but says she doesn't want to have sex with a guy in her room. Her messages are "please help," "the guy is weird," and "I need to get away."

    "I sent a lot of text messages," the young woman said. "They were on their way to look for me, but the girl found me first."

    Two days later, she was at a hospital near campus for a rape kit. She had injuries to her eye and her thumb she couldn't explain. According to the police report, the suspect told police she cut her eye when she fell in her dorm room.

    "At the time, I just felt really upset. I didn't really understand why someone would do that to someone knowing they weren't in the correct mindset," the young woman said.

    In 2018 alone, Athens police took 25 rape reports, including seven at the start of the school year. Ohio University police had 13 reports of rape, with nearly half in the fall semester. The year before, there were another 13 reports at Ohio University. All but one of the OU cases remains an open investigation.

    In December 2018, ABC 6 On Your Side Investigates asked to interview Ohio University's President, the Board of Trustees Chair, and police about sex crimes and safety. The university declined the requests.

    ABC 6 decided to take questions to the Ohio University Trustees meeting in January, where there was some pushback. When Ohio University President Dr. Duane Nellis was asked whether he thought there was a rape culture at OU, the university media representative said the topic was not on the agenda for the Board of Trustees before Nellis could answer.

    "At least let me say that we have a strong commitment to safety at this institution. One sexual misconduct is too many. We've put in place a number of steps to address safety here," Dr. Nellis said.

    Until that exchange, the only response the university sent ABC 6 was a lengthy email. It reads in part: “Although we are seeing an increasing number of sexual assault reports, the data indicates that the increase is in the actual number of reports, not incidents occurring.”

    “This is certainly something that I don’t believe is unique to Ohio University but we’re focused here and we want to create a safe environment as we can for our university," said Dr. Nellis.

    The Athens County prosecutor said there is more confidence in reporting, however there are also more anonymous reports making it a challenge. The young woman who reported her case in the fall says she knows more girls at OU who say they've been sexually assaulted.

    "Some of them haven't reported, and it was very hard for them to go through and they're still going through it," she said.

    Jill Davis, the Campus Prevention Coordinator for OhioHealth Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio, says freshman or sophomore students may be seen as vulnerable in their youth and targeted for harm. Davis also says another contributing factor for a higher rate of sexual assaults among college students is campus social life, but consent should be common sense.

    "Alcohol is such a common part of campus party life culture that it makes it very difficult for people to recognize when alcohol is being misused or being used to facilitate sexual assault," Davis said.

    In Ohio University's email response, a university media representative cited extended student shuttle hours, re-focused police patrols where students live, and more cameras for dorms in response to our questions about recent rapes and campus safety.

    “It very well could have been prevented if there were cameras and someone was watching,” said the young woman we talked to.

    By mid-November, nearly one month after the reported rape, police closed her case. Most of the wording on that page of the case report is redacted, but police wouldn’t tell us why.

    When ABC 6 first interviewed the young woman who filed the report, she thought her case didn’t matter. “I just feel kind of like it’s acceptable for that to happen to me I guess,” she said.

    The Athens County prosecutor says five rape cases from the fall were referred to his office. In one case referred to him from Ohio University police, the suspect died. The prosecutor says that one was heading to a grand jury.

    The new year and new semester brings change for the young woman.

    “I decided that it’s best for me to move out of my room and I changed my major,” she said. There’s hope a fresh start may help heal emotional scars. She’s since taken a self-defense class as she moves forward.

    One lingering question for this young woman is whether she was drugged. She believes she was and says she had tests at the hospital but can’t get anyone to tell her the results.

    “Sometimes I think maybe I did something wrong, but I don’t really know what I would have done wrong."

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