June 20, 2018 / 3:06 PM / 5 months ago

Ohio State University closes sexual assault unit; cites mismanagement

(Reuters) - Ohio State University this week shut down its center dedicated to handling complaints of sexual assault after officials discovered that the service was not properly managing victim reports, school officials said.

The university launched its comprehensive prevention effort to combat sexual misconduct in 2015, at a time of intense public focus on sex assault on U.S. college campuses. Its move to shut down the program comes as the #MeToo movement has intensified focus on sexual harassment and assault in many spheres of American life.

A review conducted by an external law firm revealed that the campus Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit did not properly document and report information about some sexual assault complaints by students, Chris Davey, a spokesman for the university, said in a statement on Tuesday.

A representative for the university did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment on Wednesday.

The program had received national attention in 2015, when then-Vice President Joe Biden visited the school to highlight responses to what the White House termed an epidemic of sex assault on U.S. college campuses.

Ohio State said its review found that the center failed to follow university policies when investigating assaults on and off campus.

Some survivors were subjected to victim-blaming, subjected to treatment that traumatized them or were told they were lying, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper reported, citing official documents. The paper also reported that some of the unit’s advocates told some survivors to embellish their stories to receive legal justice.

The university said it will work with experts to create a new student-support program and will continue to review and recommend enhancements to its policies and practices regarding sexual and gender-based harassment and violence.

Women ages 18 to 24 who are college students are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence, according to statistics by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Women of the same age who are not enrolled in college are four times more likely.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler

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