University provides resources for sexual assault cases

Natalie Meek

The hours, days and even months after someone experiences an incident of sexual assault can be disorienting and overwhelming. Victims might feel like they have no one or nowhere to turn to for help. Kent State University encourages those affected to speak up and seek help from one of the many available resources on and off campus.

Students’ safety is the university’s top priority. If someone choses to report an incident of sexual assault to the Kent State police, they allow the case to be survivor-led, meaning that the option to pursue charges is up to the victim.

Tricia Knoles, the Kent State University Police Services community resource officer, explained that the statistics of sexual assault incidents on Kent State’s campus have recently increased in number.

Kent State attributes the increase to the different awareness campaigns, trainings and educational awareness that have been implemented within the past several years by the Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services (SRVSS) office.

“Before this, the only options a sexual assault survivor had was to either contact the police or not do anything about it,” Knoles said. “For some people, contacting the police after being sexually assaulted can be another traumatic event for them. If they don’t want police involvement at all, that is totally a priority.”

If a student does not want police involvement, they can go to the SRVSS office, which provides confidential assistance for students facing incidents of sexual assault and power-based personal violence. That assault is then reported, without identification, to the police so they are aware of where the incident took place.

Director of SRVSS Jennifer O’Connell explained SRVSS can help accommodate the campus environment to a victim’s needs. This includes coordination with the Office of Student Ombuds to offer academic support, faculty to accommodate to classroom changes and residence services for different housing options. SRVSS also connects students with the gender-based discrimination Title IX coordinator and offers support through the medical and legal process following an incident.

“When a student does come forward and put themselves in a vulnerable position, it takes a lot of courage,” O’Connell said. “It’s important that they get the support they deserve and are empowered to share their experience honestly and openly.”

University Health Services ensures that a student receives proper medical attention after an incident. When Dr. Jennifer D’Abreau of Kent State University Health Services first started at Kent, she explained that they were working on a good support system. She said that time has brought more awareness to the issue.

“When an assault happens, the university looks at it as a multi-disciplinary event,” D’Abreau said. “It involves a lot of different folks who can assure the chain of command. From a medical standpoint, people need to be taken care of.”

UHS urges victims to seek medical attention within 72-96 hours of the reported incident. UHS is able to coordinate transportation to medical facilities like the Cleveland Clinic or Akron General Hospital that provide adequate care for students in need.  

At medical facilities, sexual assault nurse examiners who have been trained to handle trauma and rape victims assist victims. During a post-trauma examination and informational interview, a student can be tested for pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other following complications. These medical professionals are also trained to maintain necessary evidence for a student’s future legal action.

Long term, the Deweese Health Center is available to victims for follow up appointments and testing.

“We offer services that are applicable, wherever a student is at in the process,” D’Abreau said. “It’s our job to help the person become whole again.”

Psychological services is also an on-campus resource for victims. Dr. Pamela Wind explained how the university’s psychologists can provide support and guidance in assisting students through the aftermath of a traumatic incident.

“We are a confidential support system on campus,” Wind said, “which means we are not obligated under Title IX.”

This means that a victim has full control over actions taken concerning their situation. Because of the urgency of the matter, psychological services prioritizes victims of sexual assault, despite the normal wait list for appointments. They inform a victim about their options and are experts in trauma informed care in the face of vulnerability.

The effects of PTSD are commonly seen in victims of sexual assault. Wise explained that it is common for people to feel unsafe or unsure of what to do.

“There’s a lot of back and forth in our culture on how we deal with sexual assault,” Wise said. “With these incidents come an open opportunity for blame, shock and lack of safety. As a university, we are very victim-centered. Individuals are free to make their own decisions, and based on what they need, we try to be as responsive as possible.”

As an off-campus resource, Townhall II is the rape crisis center of Portage County with a 24/7 emergency helpline available. Mike Hovancsek is one of the counselors for Townhall II who specializes in trauma assistance for individuals victimized by rape, sexual assault and other crimes.

“They can call our emergency line here at 330-678-3006, and there they can ask about our services,” Hovancsek said. We have ongoing counseling, much of it free with grants and things, and there’s a support group for people who have sexual assault and rape in their past. It gives them the chance to talk to others who have been through what they’ve been through.”

Townhall II also has outreach and advocacy services. There are trained staff members that will go with a person if they decide to pursue legal action, advocating for them and talking about their rights and resources.

Experiencing sexual assault is frightening and devastating. During this time when someone might feel alone, there is always help. With both on-campus and outside resources, no one is ever alone after sexual assault.

Natalie Meek is the south regional campuses and aeronautics reporter. Contact her at [email protected]