Campus Sexual Assaults: Ohio U. victim ‘was failed on multiple levels’

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 contain 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.

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The sexual assault that led Ohio University student Dedrick Peterson to be sentenced to five years in prison wasn’t the first time he was accused of sexually assaulting a female student.

Peterson, a former member of OU’s marching band, pleaded guilty in February 2015 to three counts of sexual battery from an incident that ocurred at OU’s 2013 homecoming weekend.

Peterson and the victim were at a party where the girl got drunk. He offered to help her home, then followed her into her house and sexually assaulted her while she was too inebriated to consent, according to Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn.

The victim reported the incident after it happened, but the case was initally closed by Athens police, which handled the case because it happened off-campus. The victim lobbied police and the prosecutor’s office to re-open the case, which Blackburn ultimately did.

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Blackburn said there were multiple issues with the case: the hospital made clerical errors on the rape kit, the police made mistakes in investigating the case.

Peterson was originally charged with multiple counts of rape, but those charges were dismissed when he pleaded guilty to the lower-level felony. Problems with how the investigation was initally handled weakened the case, Blackburn said.

“This girl was failed on multiple levels,” he said.

Peterson had been accused in 2011 of sexually assaulting a fellow Eastern Michigan University student in 2009, though the case was closed after the victim declined to pursue criminal charges.

This is common in cases of campus sexual assault, the I-Team’s investigation found.

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That original allegation came to light in 2011 when the woman told an EMU official about the 2009 incident and the official reported it to police.

“(The alleged victim) reports that she decided 2 years ago (after the assault ocurred) that she did not want to seek criminal prosecution for the assault because she did not with to re-live the situation,” the EMU police report says.

She told police that she was a band member with Peterson and went to an off-campus party where she was drinking whiskey mixed with Mountain Dew. He lured her outside by grabbing her drink and running off with it, she said, and when she caught up with him he grabbed her and molested her. She said she ran away when he undid his pants.

In 2011, she said she had heard that Peterson was becoming more active at a fraternity at OU and she was concerned he was going to try to mentor female students.

“(She) expressed that it upsets her that Peterson has continued to be an active member of the fraternity for the last 2 years and her life has not been the same for her since the assault took place,” the report says.

But the report concludes with her asking Michigan police not to press charges or contact Peterson.

>> IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION: 79 cases, 5 arrests, 0 rape convictions

Blackburn said his office has taken an aggressive approach in providing training for law enforcement for sexual assault investigations.

“The underreporting of sexual assaults is a societal problem that we need to address,” he said. “Society quickly labels victims of sexual assault, and in many cases negatively.

“First and foremost, as a society, we need to respect one another and not allow one person to enforce their will over another; and as a system, we need to better educate investigators, victim advocates, hospital staff, and prosecutors on how to best handle sexual assault reports.”

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