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How Athens County is taking action against sexual assault

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A protest was held in February 2017 after allegations surfaced against a tenured professor. File photo by Heather Willard.

The Sexual Assault Resource Collaborative is working to aid survivors in all of Athens County with specialized approaches.

The Athens County Prosecutor’s office has taken action to aid victims of sexual assault, educate the public on the processing logistics and help give bystanders the ability to protect others.

The Sexual Assault Resource Collaborative (SARC) was first created in 2014 to decrease issues with the process of pursuing a sexual assault case.

“We try to work to minimize the trauma that (victims) go through during that process,” Elizabeth Pepper said. She is the Assistant Athens County Prosecutor, Chief of Criminal Division and lead prosecutor for sexual assault cases.

SARC works with survivor advocacy groups across Athens county, including those at Ohio University, as well as hospitals in the area. By connecting with these organizations, SARC is able to discuss the politics and procedures that are involved during an investigation and to make the process more bearable for victims of sexual assault, Pepper said.

In addition to working to improve the procedures and process of sexual assault cases, SARC works to educate the Athens area about prevention and general education regarding sexual assault. Pepper said their main focus right now is sexual assault at the college level, since this is where it is seen to be the largest issue.

However, SARC is working to get sexual assault education opportunities into schools below the college level to teach students about sexual assault cases and prevention sooner.

Furthermore, SARC also teaches the public about how to respond as a bystander and how to help those impacted by sexual assault.

SARC is currently working with Ohio U on educating students about how the university’s Code of Conduct differs from criminal law.

“A student can go though a title IX investigation and be found to be in violation of the code of conduct and face a suspension or expulsion,” Pepper said.

“But the criminal system is very difference and is a difference burden of proof — and Ohio law is different than the code of conduct as well — so that is something we are working on with the university agencies in order to work to get that information out to the public.”

In order for Ohio U to prosecute a student for sexual assault, the university just has to prove guilt via preponderance of the evidence. On a criminal level, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is knowledge that SARC is working to educate students about, so that it is understood when someone is convicted under Ohio U’s Code of Conduct, the same may not apply as a criminal offense.

For those who are impacted by sexual assault at Ohio U, there are several places that offer help.

The Survivor Advocacy Program, which helps manage the medical and legal process is located at Lindsey Hall room 038 and 038C. They can also be contacted at 740-597-7233 (which is a crisis line that is available at all times of the day) or at www.ohio.edu/survivor.

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