Survivors say Ohio University Lacks in Supporting Victims of Sexual Assault

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ATHENS, Ohio — Despite the increase in the number of sexual assaults reported on Ohio University’s Athens campus, it remains one of the most underreported crimes. Two sexual assault survivors share their stories and offer insight into why victims are hesitant to report their assaults:

“I’m so angry. I’m angry for him for putting me in that position to experience all the things that I did have to experience and all the things that I’m still going through now cause every day just feels like a punishment,” Santiago said.

That’s how Ashley Santiago, who is a junior pre-med major at Ohio University, feels all the time after being sexually assaulted last year.

It was the end of fall semester and Ashley was in her dorm room studying for an exam when she started to have an anxiety attack. A friend-of-a-friend offered to come over and help calm her down.

“With my anxiety and how bad it was I was really scared and I was like yea, you know I do want somebody to be with me,” Santiago said. “I told him if you come over I don’t want to have sex, I don’t want to have sex.”

Not long after that text exchange, the man knocked on her door. Still wrestling with her anxiety, she decided to lay down on her bed.

“And he got in beside me and I talked with him a little bit about what happened and fell asleep and I woke up to him violating me,” Santiago said.

She told him to stop, but because she didn’t know him well, she says she was afraid to scream. After the encounter, she asked him to leave and shortly after texted a friend who took her to O’Bleness hospital.

This was not an isolated instance. Another student, this time a journalism major, says she was raped in Bryan Hall.

She asked we not use her real name or show her face but “Susan”, like Ashley, has a similar story.

Her attacker contacted her after getting her number off Facebook and they casually talked for about a month when she decided to cut off communication. Soon, he was traveling all the way from North Carolina to Athens – showing up on campus unannounced – threatening her and her friends and gaining access to her dorm room.

Susan says on January 292017 – he showed up at her room unannounced – and raped her.

“I literally like got in the shower and took such a hot shower that I like burned myself because I wanted to wash it all away,” Susan said.

Neither the Athens County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office or Ohio University’s Dean of Students would speak with us about these cases citing concerns over confidentiality.

So far this year 13 rape cases have been reported at Ohio University. Ohio University Police say they think the increase in reported sex crimes over the past five years reflects an increased willingness to report the crime, instead of an increase in the number of sexual assaults themselves. OUPD says it is always trying to improve the reporting process so victims feel more comfortable.

“We are always trying to maintain trust and build trust especially with our community outreach so that people do feel comfortable talking with us,” Lt. Tim Ryan said.

But both Ashley and Susan say the university doesn’t handle sexual assault investigations well.

Ashley says it took more than three times the recommended 60 days laid out in the university’s code of conduct for the university to complete its investigation of her case – finally ruling that there was not enough evidence to take disciplinary action against her attacker. Her attacker has since graduated from Ohio University. Ashley and Susan say the system failed them.

“I have failed to find justice through the school and through legal processes, while the prosecutor’s office is still looking over my case, it doesn’t seem very likely that they’re going to take it,” Santiago said.

“This man took so much from me, he took my safety, he took my sanity,” Susan said. “They let this like scum of a man get away with so much. He was literally charged a misdemeanor. What he did should have been a felony.”

Ohio University professor Michelle Ferrier, who is a sexual assault survivor herself is critical of how the university handles reports of sexual assault. Ferrier, who is suing the Scripps College of Communication for gender discrimination says the university puts the victims through a gauntlet that solidifies the emotional pain of the attack and understands why these crimes often go unreported.

“I don’t fault other women for not coming forward, because the emotional damage from the incident itself is painful enough, but when we have processes here that are designed to hide and suppress and minimize the damage that you’ve had, I would not recommend that any women come forward and tell their story here at Ohio University,” Ferrier said.

For Ashley that pain and trauma wasn’t just confined to her assault – Ashley says she became pregnant with twins after her assault – she miscarried one and decided to abort the other.

After all that’s happened Ashley has decided to leave Ohio University at the end of this semester – while she feels the school failed her – she says her story shouldn’t stop others from reporting sexual assaults.

“You just gotta send a clear message that they’re not going to get away with it. That you’re going to do everything you can to make sure that you find justice whether that’s in your own heart or legally,” Santiago said.