The Ohio State University will be permanently closing its Sexual Civility and Empowerment (SCE) unit, and eliminating four positions within the unit after releasing the current employees, following an external review due to concerns about the unit’s management and its lack support for survivors of sexual assault.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that the decision comes “amid concerns that [SCE] failed to properly report students’ sexual-assault complaints and that some victims were told they were lying or suffering from delusions” and that “survivors were subjected to victim-blaming, unethical and re-traumatizing treatment by SCE advocates.” Those reports were corroborated by coverage in the school’s newspaper, The Lantern, which claimed that survivors were subjected to accusations that they were “lying,” “delusional” or “suffering from mental illness” and were told they simply had “an active imagination,” “didn’t understand their own experience” or even “fabricated their story.” The Lantern also reported that SCE, instead of discussing rape as a form of intense sexual violence, defined it instead as “a miscommunication which can be prevented by teaching respectful communication, civility in the community and sexual pleasure.”
The Dispatch obtained information through a public records request and a document by the OhioHealth Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio, or SARNCO. “At OhioHealth SARNCO, our mission is ‘To Empower All Survivors: To End Sexual Violence,” Ohio Health SARNCO manager Heather Herron Murphy said in a statement. “If we receive information about survivors’ needs not being met, or survivors’ concerns not being heard, we work to amplify those voices.”
The university will be bringing in Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie M. Gomez from the Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor to “help create a redesigned, best-in-class model to support victims of sexual assault, and conduct a thorough evaluation of the broader Title IX program.” Smith and Gomez’ profiles for Cozen O’Connor both cite experience in work around sexual and gender-based harassment and violence, and issues around Title IX. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a new framework will be created around sexual misconduct cases, some cases brought to SCE will be retroactively addressed and lawyers have been dispatched to investigate a now-late sports doctor from OSU who was accused of sexual assault by dozens of male athletes.
In a statement to the student body, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) at Ohio State expressed a desire to move forward and support survivors after a “difficult period of uncertainty on our campus” and indicated that they would work alongside the university president to ensure progress. “We strongly believe that the university should take all necessary steps to have needed resources and support available to students by the beginning of the autumn semester,” USG said. “Our continuing commitment is to ensure the student voice is heard in this process.”
Abby Flowers, a rising junior at OSU, said that she had never heard of the Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit before she got a vague email from the university president on Tuesday. “I did not even know that SCE existed,” she told Ms. “I had to Google it on my own and look at articles to see what happened.” Flowers, a transfer to OSU, also told Ms. that she never received any sexual misconduct training at orientation, unlike at her former school. Referencing the pervasiveness of sexual assault on college campuses, she declared: “It’s such a culture here.”
As the #MeToo conversation continues around the country, and growing attention is placed on the epidemic of rape culture on college campuses, it will be imperative for The Ohio State University to understand one of the most powerful aspects of this moment—the importance of voices and storytelling, and work to provide resources to their student body as soon as possible. This misstep may mean that they have missed the opportunity to be a “national leader in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct,” to quote President Michael V. Drake, but it will allow them the opportunity to truly display their support for survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the #MeToo moment, something that they have thus far failed to do.
The following resources can be accessed by Ohio State students or others wishing to access resources around sexual violence: Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio 24-Hour Rape Helpline at 614.267.7020, the Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline at 844.OHIO.HELP and the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE.