Anxiety has pervaded Athens and the Ohio University campus in recent weeks in the wake of six sexual assaults reported to Athens and OU Police departments so far this fall semester.
OU’s top administrators – including most recently, OU President Duane Nellis – and the Athens and OU police chiefs all have issued statements about the reported sexual assaults, and both administrators and the police recently held group discussions on the issue.
Students, meanwhile, also have responded to the reports with their own grassroots efforts to tackle the issue. Multiple OU campus sororities and fraternities put up banners with messages such as “Consent is sexy (with the word ‘sexy’ crossed out – underneath the word ‘mandatory’ written in)”; “Our bodies, our rules”; and “‘No’ does not mean ‘convince me.’”
OU junior Sydney Numbers, president of the Alpha Omicron Pi chapter at OU, shared a photo with The NEWS Sunday of a banner unfurled in front of that fraternity chapter’s house on Church Street in uptown Athens that read, “Yes mean yes, no means no. Whatever we wear, wherever we go.”
Numbers said the slogan came from a chant during last year’s Take Back the Night march and rally in Athens.
“After the fourth rape report came out, the conversations in our chapter changed from light-hearted jabs about being back in the grind of a new school year to how disappointed and scared we were to be on this campus,” she said. “I walked 15 minutes home from my friends’ house, and all I could think about on the way was how to use my phone in my hand as a weapon if someone tried something. Then the women of Sigma Kappa decided to take a stand and put up a banner outside their house saying ‘consent is mandatory.’
“We sent them lots of love and support, because what they did was so inspiring,” Numbers added. “Our conversations as a chapter evolved into how we could get involved as well.”
Because three of the recent sexual-assault reports alleged that women were assaulted while they were walking home at night, Mary Ryznar, an OU senior studying communication studies and integrated media, started a GroupMe group chat for women in Athens to coordinate walks home together from the uptown/near-uptown area.
Ryznar said in an interview Saturday that within 30 minutes of her posting about the group message on Twitter last week, the group hit its 500-person limit. She said Saturday that she and other students in the group chat are petitioning GroupMe to increase the size of the group so that more people can be added to the group message.
Ryznar said the recent rape reports – and especially the crime alerts sent out by the OU Police – have made some students feel “on edge.” She hadn’t felt so scared to walk by herself in Athens during her previous years in college, she said.
“Everywhere I went, to classes, on Court Street, I would constantly hear girls talking about how they’re scared to walk home and just like, how the atmosphere on campus is just a little bit different now,” Ryznar said. “Everyone’s on edge. Everyone is scared to go anywhere by themselves.”
Ryznar said that the students on the group chat already have started utilizing it to make sure friends made it home safely. She shared a screenshot of the group chat from Friday night when a student posted, “Anyone not out that could walk my sister home? She’s at Bryan (Hall) on East Green; I’m in Columbus and she’s scared to walk back to her dorm.” One of the next two posts from another female OU student read, “I got her.”
Roughly seven out of every 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to statistics on the Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network’s website.
Ryzmar said she hopes that the local police agencies increase their patrols in the area of the OU dormitories and around the student-resident neighborhoods
In total, the Athens and OU Police received a combined 62 rape reports in 2016, most of those coming from college-aged women and men. You can read more about those statistics and other recent reports on page 2.
OU PRESIDENT NELLIS said in his letter to the campus community last Friday that he is “troubled” by the reports of sexual violence on campus.
“Please know that this all weighs heavily on me, and I have struggled to focus on little else but worrying about the safety and well-being of our students,” Nellis said. “As you know, I have communicated such sentiments to the university community through email and so have others including Dr. Pina, Title IX Coordinator Griffin, Dr. Hall-Jones, Chief Powers and Chief Pyle. We even began the year by addressing rape culture by denouncing the sexually explicit banners that appeared on some off-campus houses during welcome week in our first message.”
Nellis shared a link to a page on OU’s Compass news website at https://www.ohio.edu/compass/stories/18-19/09/end-sexual-violence.cfm that includes a list of resources that the university provides its students, and added that a Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct has been working to develop “additional programming to combat sexual violence.” That group has a landing page with information on getting help or reporting sexual misconduct located at https://www.ohio.edu/pacsm.