By George Mauzy
Last spring, Ohio University adopted new sexual assault sanctioning guidelines and a newly formed campus coalition is now working to effectively communicate the guidelines to students.
During the summer, Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi formed the Relationship and Sexual Violence Coalition to educate the campus community about the new guidelines and the sanctions they carry.
The coalition, which is chaired by Lombardi and Assistant Director of the Campus Involvement Center Amanda Childress, is using various communication tactics to relay its messages, including press releases, posters and various forms of electronics communications.
"Through the work of the coalition, we hope to reduce the incidents of relationship and sexual violence that occur in our campus community," Lombardi said.
Sexual assault crimes include public indecency, voyeurism, sexual imposition, gross sexual imposition, sexual battery and rape.
According to the new guidelines, the university hearing board or administrative hearing officer will address three questions in cases of alleged sexual assault.
First, "Did an act constituting sexual assault occur?" If the answer to this is yes but no physical contact occurred, the minimum sanction is one quarter suspension.
The second question is "Was physical contact was involved?" In these cases the minimum sanction is a one-year suspension.
The third question is "Did penetration occur during the assault?"
In any case where the answer to this question is yes, the accused student will be expelled. The guidelines also state that a presidential interim suspension will always be considered in cases where expulsion is being considered.
In addition to the university's sanctions, a student charged with sexual assault could also face criminal charges, according to Ohio University Chief of Police Andrew Powers.
Powers said OUPD thoroughly investigates all reported criminal offenses and strongly encourages survivors to prosecute offenders. Although OUPD makes every effort to respect the wishes of survivors who don't want to prosecute criminally, Powers noted that isn't always possible.
"We are responsible for the safety of the community as a whole, which may mean prosecuting an offender even if that's not the survivor's preference," Powers said.
Lombardi said Student Senate and Graduate Student Senate were supportive of the new sanctions when he presented them in the spring.
"We needed to be sure that our students understood the definition of sexual assault," Lombardi said. "Our feedback indicated that many students didn't know what constitutes sexual assault, so we must educate them about what is and isn't acceptable behavior."
Other goals of the coalition include developing a marketing campaign for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program, creating a Website for the coalition and collaborating with the Athens area community on relationship and sexual assault education.
The coalition also is developing a process that makes it easier for victims to report sexual assault crimes. Two of the key components are the availability of 24-hour counseling and the option for confidentiality.
Members of the coalition, which is made up of administrators, staff, faculty and students from across campus, are visiting student groups, off-campus student houses, bars, residence halls and the Greek community to discuss the new guidelines and answer questions.
One of the key messages the coalition wants to get across to students is that being intoxicated is never an excuse for committing a sexual assault.
"Many students think that alcohol is a valid excuse for having sex with another intoxicated person or harassing and inappropriately touching another person," Lombardi said. "That is not the case. By law, a person can't give consent if they are under the influence of alcohol. The new sanctioning guidelines make it clear that if they commit the violation, they will face the appropriate sanctions."
For detailed information about sexual assault violations and the sanctions they carry, visit the Student Code of Conduct.