University of Akron getting help to combat sexual assault on campus

AKRON, Ohio  -- The United States Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women has awarded the University of Akron a $300,000 grant that will be directed toward helping with the prevention and reporting of sexual assaults and related crimes on campus.

The university already has a well established Title IX department that works to prevent such incidents and encourage victims to seek support and report them when they occur.

The numbers seem to show an increase in such crimes over the past three years on campus.

Reports of dating violence are up from 12 in 2015 to 29 in 2017. Sexual assaults are up from 32 that were reported in 2015 to 57 last year.

What is not clear is whether the statistics reflect an actual increase in the number of assaults and related incidents, or if students feel more comfortable reporting them as they are being encouraged to do.

"I'm not sure I could scientifically point and say, you know, cause and effect, but I think it's reasonable to conclude that there's a good deal more reporting and perhaps not necessarily an increase in the actual number of those circumstances but as we say one is too many," said University of Akron spokesman Wayne Hill.

The University of Akron was the first to establish a relationship with the Rape Crisis Center of Summit and Medina counties.

Julius Payne directs the effort, staffing one of two offices on the university's campus.

"This is an issue everywhere-- not one campus, not two, everywhere -- whether it is on campus in the news, whether it is Hollywood, whether it is middle school, high school; this is an issue everywhere," said Payne.

He welcomes any help in enhancing their efforts.

"One of the big things is programming and funding for programming -- being able to up and say, 'hey, we have an idea for this. Where is the funding going to come from?' Now we don't have to think about that so much," said Payne.

The money is expected to help hire a full-time staff member who will be dedicated to help with the prevention and outreach efforts.

The university says it will also help implement universal prevention strategies, including training for faculty and staff; training for campus law enforcement, other first responders and student conduct hearing boards; build upon a coordinated community response to violation, including internal and external partners; and, provide mandatory prevention and education programming for all new university students.

It comes at a time when there is great awareness nationally of the seriousness of such crimes and a greater willingness for victims to take advantage of efforts to support them.

"I think it validates a lot of what we are already doing over a good number of years, but also offers the opportunity for more concentrated efforts and that's what I think what the grand signifies," said Hill.