ATHENS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine visited the Women’s Center at Ohio University on Thursday to discuss how Ohio University Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program is helping rape and sexual assault victims in Ohio.
In particular, discussion turned to how the program is helping victims in Meigs and Perry counties. Theda Petrasko, victim assistance director for the Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, was present to represent the county during discussion.
According to DeWine, a survey was sent to 88 counties about a year ago that asked each county what kind of advocacy they provided for victims.
“About a year ago, people started being concerned about coverage for rape crisis centers in the state,” he said. “And what coverage was as far as some places (having) less. We did a survey through our victim program in the attorney general’s office, and it was all self-reported. We just called 88 counties.”
Meigs and Perry counties all reported low availability of resources for victims, and DeWine and the program knew a solution was necessary. Through grant money from the Office of Victims of Crime through the Attorney General’s Office, the Ohio University Survivor Advocacy Program for Meigs and Perry counties was created after a call from DeWine. Initially, Athens County was also included in the grant, but did not qualify because they had more services available to victims.
The original Survivor Advocacy Program was created in 2009 and is funded through the Violence Against Women Act. It is located in Ohio University’s McKee House 006, which is located at 44 University Terrace. The Women’s Center is located at the Baker University Center, room 403, on Ohio University’s campus.
According to Shari Clarke, vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Ohio University, the program for Meigs and Perry counties has, so far, served 27 victims, with 94 hours of direct contact and five personal assists.
“We’re very strong on that,” she said to DeWine.
DeWine also spoke about the need to test old rape kits — or an evidence collection kit — throughout the state of Ohio, and said that Cleveland alone had 4,000 untested rape kits. DeWine held a few press conferences and wrote to police and sheriff’s departments around the state asking them to turn over kits for testing by his team unrelated to the Attorney General’s Office. So far, about 4,300 kits have been tested, with one in three coming back with a match in the database of about 11 million names.
“I did it for several reasons,” he said. “Rape kits have been sitting around a long time, and I wanted to do this because some of the rapists may still be loose,” he said. “We wanted to do something with that, but I also felt that society owed something to the rape victim.”
Sarah Tucker Jenkins, program coordinator, said that in rape cases, advocacy and service requires very specific help, including assistance for those who don’t wish to report their rape or sexual assault to the police but still need assistance.
“I think in rural areas people can feel really alone, especially in areas where maybe rape and sexual assault is undermined and not taken seriously,” she said. “And so I think the advocacy program can reach out and bring that kind of comfort to people knowing that they’re not alone, that there’s something that can help you and be with you every step of the process of getting your rape or sexual assault taken through the legal process — if that’s what you choose to do.”
Victims can be provided transportation, medical care and other assistance through the advocacy program. The Community Crisis Line phone number is 740-591-4266.