Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis (right) greets Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and members of his family at Ohio University's Women's Center.
Photographer: Ben Siegel
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (left) discusses the achievements of the outreach program with Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Shari Clarke and Women's Center Program Coordinator Sarah Jenkins.
Photographer: Ben Siegel
Ohio University President Roderick McDavis (right) greets Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine at Ohio University's Women's Center.
Photographer: Ben Siegel
Aug 1, 2014
By Gretchen Gregory
Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis welcomed Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and members of the media to Ohio University’s Women’s Center in Baker University Center early Thursday to discuss the University’s recent partnership with the state to provide services and support to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence throughout Southeast Ohio.
“This is so critical for our state, Ohio University, and our region and I think our cooperative efforts will help us advance victim advocate training and help victims in important ways,” said President McDavis.
The University has received grant funding as part of DeWine’s statewide initiative to increase access to core sexual assault services in each of the 88 counties. OHIO is now overseeing the implementation of sexual assault services in Athens, Meigs, and Perry counties, with the goal of expanding the program throughout Southeastern Ohio.
“We thought it made a lot of sense to do this with Ohio University because you have a long history of providing services and have the expertise,” DeWine said. “This is a University that does great outreach and it’s a great tradition.”
Earlier this month, eight local volunteers completed the first OHIO Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, which was designed to educate how to adequately respond and support victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, rape culture, and intimate partner violence.
“We think we’re at our best when we’re working with our neighbors,” McDavis said. “This is one of those areas that is extremely important to the University, in terms of our concern for victims, as well as our concern for helping our neighbors in the close counties to us, so this is something we intend to continue in the future. We think this support will help us do that.”
The Women’s Center has served more than 27 individuals with 94 hours of direct services since receiving funding from DeWine’s office, and OUSAP Program Coordinator Catherine Wargo has been called to assist victims in the hospital at least five times, said OHIO Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Shari Clark.
“It’s really needed and very necessary, and we love the fact that it fulfills OHIO’s mission of outreach, and we feel very strongly about that,” Clark said.
Prior to the partnership, victims of sexual assault or domestic violence in Meigs County who lacked transportation were unable to seek services, but Wargo sent letters and arranged appointments with officials in Meigs County to help bridge the gap and get transportation to those who need it most, added Meigs County Victim Assistance Director Theda Petrasko.
“By going to all those people, she filled that gap,” Petrasko said. “The rapes don’t just happen during office hours, they happen 24/7. It happens right when it happens and that’s when services are needed the most, and that’s what she has done for Meigs County.”
As former county prosecutor in Green County, DeWine said he noticed a need to provide services to victims because, all too often, the aftermath of the crime is just as difficult as the crime itself.
“We tried to help prepare them for what was coming ahead in the legal system, and we did that on an ad-hoc basis, but it wasn’t consistent or as good as it could be,” he said. “I worked on this issue when I was in the Senate, and then as attorney general, one thing I found was there were a number of old rape kits that were sitting around police departments across the state.”
Soon after the discovery, DeWine’s office started researching the best practices needed to establish a protocol to have the kits tested. After hiring additional scientists and reaching out to every police department and sheriff’s office across the state, the local response overwhelmingly showed a need.
“So far in this program, we have tested 4,300 rape kits. In the city of Cleveland, it’s hard to believe, but they had 4,000 old rape kits that had never been tested. Some of them went back 18, 19, 20 years, so we started testing at a rate of about 300 a month,” DeWine said.
The most surprising part of the testing, he added, is that scientists are consistently getting DNA matches on one out of every three kits tested.
“We wanted to do testing because some of these rapists may still be loose,” Dewine said. “Also, I felt that society owes it to the victim. Here’s a person who has been victimized, brutalized, and was undoubtedly told the rape kit would be used for evidence to try and find the attacker. We’re now going back to police departments and sheriff offices and saying, ‘We now have your rapist.’”
By increasing the number of scientists processing the kits, the time to analyze rape kits has gone from 125 to 22 days, despite the amount of work increasing fourfold.
“It takes a cooperative effort in everyone knowing what services everyone can provide,” Dewine said. “We’re excited for this partnership we have with OHIO. I think outreach is so important and for people to know what services are available.”