Updated Thu, Jul 31, 2014 5:01 pm
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine came to the Ohio University Women's Center Thursday to hear about the progress being made with a year-old outreach program.
The Ohio University Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program (OUSAOP) offers 24-hour support services to victims of sexual assault in Athens, Perry and Meigs Counties.
"This has been something-as far as the victims-that I've been concerned with for a long, long time," Dewine said. "When I was the county prosecutor we worked on a large, unfortunately, number of rape cases. The thing that impressed me was how important it was to provide services to the victims."
DeWine's visit to OU's Women's Center marks one of his many efforts to improve safety against sexual violence. Since the beginning of his time as Ohio's Attorney General, DeWine has administered new rape kit protocol to improve how sexual assault evidence is handled in Ohio jails and hospitals. He has also worked opened up old cases to bring justice for those who have faced sexual assault by testing kits that were never sent to crime labs.
The Ohio Attorney General's Office awarded the $60,000 grant to the OUSAOP in the fall of 2013 out of their Office of Victim of Crime Act. The money goes toward funding OUSAOP's program outreach coordinator position, held by OU alum Kat Wargo. Wargo is responsible for running the 24-hour hotline and providing services to victims who call. Since the program began a year ago, Wargo has worked with 27 individuals and logged over 90 hours of direct service time.
"It's whatever the person calling wants her to do," Women's Center Program Coordinator Sarah Jenkins explained. "And because it's confidential is not going to be taken to the police unless they want it to."
The goal of the new outreach program is "to create a safe community where victims and survivors of sexual assault, sexual abuse, stalking, and dating and domestic violence are thoroughly respected and supported." It is designed to help those without means of transportation or other resources to get what they need after assault occurs.
"It just makes sense with a county the size of Meigs or Perry," DeWine said. "We're very excited about this."
Dewine also emphasized the fact that most victims don't understand legal process and the resources available to them after they report an assault. OUSAOP is there to help guide them through it by helping connect victims to experts like Meigs County Prosecutor's Office Victim Assistance Director Theda Petrasko. Some other services OUSAOP provides includes providing transportation for victims, scheduling and attending appointments, and providing moral support. Petrasko calls the program outreach coordinator position the "missing link" in the chain of survivor advocacy.
"A lot of times there isn't someone there isn't someone to respond at that minute with sexual violence," Petrasko said. "Kat is that first responder."
The next step at OU's Women's Center is to hire a program coordinator in Perry County to improve services.