Editor’s note: This story is part of a special report by the I-Team examining how campus police at Ohio’s universities handle reports of sexual assault. Parts of this series contains detailed descriptions of alleged sexual assaults. We believe these narratives — gathered over several months — are vital for understanding campus sexual assault, and the alleged crimes that led to no charges being filed. Read the entire “Campus Sex Assaults” series here.
The stories of the 77 young women and two men who told campus police they were sexually assaulted are each unique, but patterns emerge.
Alcohol often was involved, followed by hazy recollection. But the victim in each case said the sex wasn’t consensual. Alleged perpetrators were friends, or strangers who offered help getting home from a bar.
More than one victim had multiple assailants.
Many of the cases — culled from sex offenses alleged to campus police at eight Ohio universities — resemble the January 2015 sexual assault involving Oakwood High School graduate Brock Turner.
The Turner case triggered worldwide furor when he was slapped with a six-month sentence after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman at Stanford University.
But this newspaper’s months-long investigation showed that what was unusual about the Turner case wasn’t the light sentence — it was that he was charged with anything at all.
Using Ohio public records law, this newspaper acquired reports of 167 sex offenses alleged to campus police at eight Ohio universities in 2014 and 2015. They included 79 alleged rapes and sexual assaults. Other charges included fondling and voyeurism.
These cases represent a small fraction of the total assaults that took place on the campuses, studies have shown.
Just five of the 79 cases examined by this newspaper led to arrests in 2014 and 2015, and not a single one had resulted in a prison sentence. A handful of the cases remained open at the end of the year.
Many victims wouldn’t give police their names, or provide help in the investigations because, many said, it felt like dragging out a painful experience they just wanted to end. Several pushed for arrests, but county prosecutors couldn’t or wouldn’t press charges.
“I think it speaks to the barriers that so many of these survivors face,” said Katie Hanna, director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
There is no comprehensive way of knowing how many sexual assaults are reported to police and university officials, despite the federal Clery Act designed for that purpose.
The Clery Act requires every college and university in the country to release a report every October that includes how many sexual assaults and other crimes the school was aware of the previous year.
The eight schools included in this newspaper’s analysis were the University of Dayton, Ohio State, Wright State, Miami University, Ohio University, Wittenberg, Central State and Otterbein. The last of these was included because a Supreme Court decision against Otterbein last year made police records at private universities public for the first time, allowing for this investigation.
These eight schools combined reported 117 on-campus forcible sex offenses in 2014, the most recent year for which numbers are available. This includes rape and forcible fondling.
But not all of the incidents were reported to campus police, because federal and state laws allow victims to ask that cases not be handed over to police. But for Clery purposes they are encouraged to report to the university that a crime occurred, without details.
At the same time, not all sex offenses handled by campus police are reported through Clery. At the University of Dayton, for example, UD police investigated three rapes alleged by students in the student neighborhood that school officials didn’t have to report because they occurred in a non-university-owned landlord house.
The vast majority of sexual assaults are reported to no one.
A study last year by the American Association of Universities surveyed students at 27 colleges and universities and found that only about a quarter of students who say someone forced them to have sex through physical force — holding them down, attacking them or threatening them with a weapon — reported it to police or campus officials.
For students who say someone had sex with them while they were passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, only 5 percent reported it to authorities.
Survey respondents said they didn’t report incidents because they didn’t feel they were serious enough, they were “embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult,” or they “did not think anything would be done about it.”
Police reports reviewed by this newspaper list the main reason for closing investigations is a lack of cooperation from the victim. Women alleging heinous crimes refused to give police details about suspects, or return officers’ follow-up phone calls.
Laura Baxter, executive director of Project Woman in Springfield, said victims often want a return to normalcy and are terrified of the implications of going through the administrative or criminal justice system.
“There’s a risk of the stigma, the identification, the reminders of the crime that happened,” she said. “If they report, it becomes something of a public arena, and they have to begin to share and the process gets bigger in the process of sharing.
“How do I balance the decision to take care of myself (as a victim) and heal my trauma or expose myself to more through the process of holding a perpetrator accountable? Because it’s not done quietly.”
Campus police can pursue a case without a victim’s permission, but records obtained by this newspaper show they rarely do so.
“University police investigate all cases to the extent they can, for the protection of our campus community and the community at large,” UD officials wrote in a statement. “Whether an individual is fully pursued through the criminal justice system is a decision for the prosecutor. If a victim does not want to prosecute, our ability to pursue a criminal case is limited.”
Separate from the police investigation, the university is required to investigate alleged sexual assaults under federal Title IX rules to determine whether a suspect violated university policy on sexual misconduct.
These Title IX hearings have been controversial, with some alleging in court that universities under federal pressure to take a heavy-handed approach to sexual violence tip the scales in favor of the accuser.
Miami University is one of several Ohio schools sued by students claiming their discipline was too harsh. At the same time, Miami is being sued by a student claiming the school under-responded to sexual assault.
The Title IX process involves both parties filling out written statements and answering questions from a university hearing board of two faculty and one staff member.
Title IX disciplinary hearings rarely result in serious consequences. There were 68 on-campus sexual assaults reported through Clery in 2014 at five schools — Ohio State, Miami, Wright State, the University of Cincinnati and Central State. There were 16 suspensions or expulsions.
Findings are based on a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning it’s more likely than not that an offense occurred. This is a lower standard than criminal conviction, but a higher standard than probable cause, which is enough to arrest someone.
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said he couldn’t talk about specific cases, but said he aggressively pursues sexual assault cases he thinks he can win in court.
He said the university disciplinary process “is of no consequence to me, it doesn’t support or diminish the outcome of a case.”
“I’m given credit for knowing what’s provable, and after 43 years of doing this on both sides of the fence, I think I have a pretty good sense of what’s provable and what’s not,” he said.
“I’m not the final arbiter on whether or not a case is filed. I give advice on whether it’s the right thing to do at that time,” he said. “(I tell police) if you want it to go to the grand jury, even though I’m telling you as your legal advisor in this case it’s a bad idea, go ahead and arrest him.”
The largest obstacle in many of these cases, Gmoser said, is alcohol.
Most of the victims of sexual assault in the cases reviewed were intoxicated, many to the point they lost consciousness or lacked the ability to fight back. Several only knew they were assaulted because they woke up missing clothes, or because a witness told them about it.
“Being drunk does not lend itself to establishing facts very well,” Gmoser said. “It doesn’t excuse or justify a rape, but it can make an investigation a little more difficult.”