Mathew Austin, former detective for the Ohio University Police Department (OUPD) and RSP graduate, is The Patton College of Education’s April Alum of the Month.
Detective Austin was featured in “Start by Believing: The Power of a Survivor-Centered Process,” a documentary released by Ohio University’s Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP). The documentary highlights SAP’s work in conjunction with the OUPD to empower rape survivors through investigative techniques.
Start by Believing is part of a global campaign created by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), a nonprofit organization that provides training for mental health professionals and consultation for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.
“The Start by Believing campaign is trying to transform the way we all—law enforcement, administrators, hospital staff, friends, family, teachers, and others—respond to sexual assault,” said Austin. “If victims feel believed and supported, they will be on a path towards healing faster, and law enforcement will have better odds of pursuing these cases.”
The documentary follows the story of Ohio University student Brianna Sivy and her journey from victim, to survivor, to aspiring social worker. It outlines how Austin and Kimberly Castor, the Director of SAP, worked together to use a survivor-centered approach for crime victims.
“Healing should be the goal, and ‘Start by Believing’ is one, if not the best, way to start helping survivors on that journey,” said Austin.
After Sivy’s assailant was convicted in 2017, she, alongside Austin and Castor, launched a public awareness campaign to share her story. Sivy has spoken at numerous events, both on- and off-campus.
Prior to the documentary release, Austin and Sivy won the Law Enforcement and Survivor Special Courage Award at the 2018 Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center's Models of Justice (OCVJC) Awards Celebration. They also presented with Castor at the 2019 EVAWI conference.
“OUPD Chief Andrew Powers had the great idea to create a film that shares the story and makes the message easier to spread,” Austin said.
SAP held a screening event for “Start by Believing: The Power of a Survivor-Centered Process,” on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at the Athena Cinema. The documentary is available online at .
Austin is a two-time Ohio University graduate. He earned a Master of Science in Parks, Recreation and Leisure Studies in 2009, and a Master of Arts in Sociology in 2010.
“I originally came to OHIO for the Recreation Studies Master’s with the thoughts that I wanted to pursue a career in the outdoor recreation/education field,” Austin said. “With my graduate assistantship, I had to carry a fairly full course load, so I took a lot of electives in the Sociology field, a program I loved in undergrad.”
After earning his first master’s degree, Austin was able to “double-count” his Sociology electives. He wrote a thesis, took part in a mentored writing project, and added his Sociology master’s degree within one year.
The Cleveland Heights, Ohio, native was hired by the OUPD in 2012. He became a detective in 2014.
“I knew I wanted to be a detective and get to tackle the bigger, tougher, and more complex issues. I was lucky enough that a detective position opened up after about two years of working uniformed patrol,” said Austin. “In my nearly six years as a detective at OUPD, I investigated all kinds of cases.”
Austin added that OUPD’s process for sexual assault investigations stood out to him.
“It was our department’s recognition of the power of survivor-centered practices and their commitment to respond to sexual assault victims with compassion that led to me gaining some publicity,” said Austin.
Now, Austin works as a Special Agent for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), a statewide agency that provides criminal investigative services to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
“I work in the Crime Scene Unit and get to help all kinds of agencies on even bigger, tougher, and more complex types of investigations,” said Austin.
Looking back on his time in Athens, Austin described the SAP as “one of OUPD’s greatest teammates.”
“When I began working sexual assault investigations, there was no SAP, and detectives ended up trying to wear more hats—not an ideal situation,” said Austin. “Now, if a survivor wants to work with SAP, which I completely recommend, they can have a constant ally as they navigate the unfortunately complicated and difficult world of reporting, re-living trauma, talking to multiple agencies/offices, etc.”
Click here to learn more about Ohio University’s Survivor Advocacy program.