Dave Hartinger (second from left) of Athens speaks to a group of people attending the Ohio University Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program in Baker University Center last week. Pictured with him, from left, are Cindy Crabb, Bill Arnold, Jesper Beckholt and Samantha Galloway.

Dave Hartinger (second from left) of Athens speaks during the OHIO Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program in Baker University Center. Pictured, from left, are Cindy Crabb, Bill Arnold, Jesper Beckholt and Samantha Galloway.

Photographer: Gretchen Gregory

Catherine Wargo, program coordinator for OUSAOP, explains the guidelines of the 40-hour training sessions.

Catherine Wargo, program coordinator for OUSAOP, explains the guidelines of the 40-hour training session.

Photographer: Gretchen Gregory

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Volunteers start training to support sexual assault survivors

40-hour course organized by OHIO Women’s Center

Nine people of diverse backgrounds attended a session of the Ohio University Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program in Baker University Center last week, the first of multiple sessions designed to educate volunteers about how to adequately respond and support victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, rape culture, and intimate partner violence in Athens, Meigs and Perry counties.

During the 40-hour training, volunteers will learn how to respond to emergency situations, like when called to a hospital to support a sexual assault victim who is having an physical examination during a very traumatic time, or how best to respond to a call for help on the crisis hotline.

According to Catherine Wargo, program coordinator for OUSAOP, volunteers will become advocates for victims and will receive training to do everything from educating the community with information about sexual assault, to answering the 24-hour crisis hotline, completing office tasks, and accompanying victims to medical appointments to provide support.

Funding from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office allowed the program to launch this year, which means more people are utilizing the services. “With funding, we’re seeing a large increase of people who are reporting experiences of sexual assault or who have been assaulted in the past and are seeking support with it,” said Wargo. “Our hotline receives multiple calls each week from survivors, and once a week we are reporting to a hospital to assist a victim.”

Wargo presented the group with an outline of the training, which includes role-playing experiences, visits from special guests within the community, and education about various issues surrounding rape culture, stalking, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and anti-oppression.

“You will walk away from this 40-hour training being knowledgeable about the dynamics and impacts of sexual violence, understand the needs of survivors, and have skills for active listening and effective advocacy,” Wargo explained. “You’ll gain knowledge to be dedicated to survivors in a variety of contexts and to have skills for self-care to serve as an advocate.”

“We want you to effectively serve others while also taking care of yourself, because one of the things we often overlook as advocates is that you can’t help anybody until you help yourself first,” she added. “Staying healthy and providing self-care for yourself is a very important part of being an effective advocate.”

Multiple people affiliated with the University are attending the training, as well as a few sexual assault victims. Others are interested in the topic and learning what services OHIO can offer students.

“I’m originally from Cincinnati but I’m rising into my senior year as an English major here,” said Madison Koenig, who participated in the training session. “I have been involved with F---Rape Culture since it started in the fall, and this upcoming year I’m going to be the Women’s Affairs Commissioner for Student Senate, so I thought the more I know, the more resources I have, and the more resources I have to point people to, the better.”

Liz Blair is an associate professor of marketing at the University, and briefly described being attacked 25 years ago. “I am a survivor myself from an attack a long time ago,” she explained. “I was in my PhD program and I survived and made it through the program, thankfully. I’ve been teaching here for 25 years.” To read about how she survived, see the related story on the right.

Trauma-informed practices training program

Later this month, the OHIO Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, in partnership with the Mt. Carmel Crime & Trauma Assistance Program, will host a trauma-informed practices training program for all service providers and professionals working with survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence and stalking in Athens, Meigs and Perry counties.

The crime and trauma assistance program promotes awareness of the personal and societal impacts of crime and trauma, and facilitates recovery from the emotional, psychological and physical symptoms that result from being victimized. Individual and group counseling programs provide trauma education, coping strategies, stabilization and therapy techniques that offer victims the best possible chance of returning to a normal level of functioning.

The session will be held from 10 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, July 23 in Ellis 111. For more information about the programs or to call the crisis hot line, contact 740-591-4266.

About Ohio’s Sexual Assault Services Expansion Program

Ohio University received funding for the survivor advocacy outreach program as part of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s initiative to increase access to core services in each of the 88 counties and include a 24-hour crisis hotline, criminal justice advocacy, hospital advocacy, community outreach, crisis intervention services, referral services and agency collaboration.

A survey conducted by DeWine’s office found that 59 percent of Ohio’s counties lacked assess to core services, including Athens, Meigs and Perry counties. Although Ohio University had services in place to assist OHIO students, residents of greater Athens County did not.

“Months before the tragic sexual assault in Steubenville, I asked my Crime Victims Section to undertake an analysis of all crime victim services in the state, and we found startling gaps in sexual assault services in Ohio,” DeWine said. “It is our goal to ensure that a quick and compassionate emergency response is available to any victim of sexual assault at any time of the day, any day of the week, and in any area of the state.”

The program provides grant funding for regional sexual assault coordinators, like Ohio University, which will oversee the implementation of services, including recruiting and training volunteers, collaboration with local hospitals and criminal justice and mental health professionals, and providing training on how to meet the needs of sexual assault survivors.

OHIO's Women's Center has received nearly $70,000 in grants from the state's Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund, which was established as part of House Bill 108 and amended into the 2014-2015 state operating budget.

Since being implemented, 13 additional counties now offer core services. “Many of those who didn’t have a local hotline to call now have someone to talk with 24/7,” DeWine said. “Some counties that didn’t have a local advocate now have someone who can meet a survivor at the hospital directly following an attack. Quite frankly, we wish no one would ever have to use these services, but when someone is sexually assaulted, it is critical that survivors can find help close to home.”

Story of survival

Liz Blair is an associate professor of marketing at Ohio University and the survivor of a rape attack that happened in South Carolina 25 years ago. She survived solely by following the orders of her attacker, who held a knife near her face and threatened to take her life.

Blair, who was 28-years-old and pursuing her doctorate when the attack happened, can vividly recall the night she worked in an unfamiliar building on a South Carolina campus as a way to make extra money for Christmas. “I was working on the computer in an empty building and when I was leaving the building, I opened the front door and somebody jumped out at me, pushed me back in, and closed the door behind us,” she said. “I’m stuck. This guy pushed me against the wall inside the building, and he had a knife — a switchblade.”

"He was holding it up, and I’m not sure if it was on my throat, but he was holding it close to my face,” she continued.

After knocking her purse out of her grasp and onto the floor, her attacker ordered her to the ground. She tried to fight him, but was held and ordered to stop.

“I closed my eyes and thought I was going to die and be stabbed to death, and I started thinking about what my mom would think when she heard the news,” Blair said.

She was then raped.

“Then instead of killing me, he got up and started walking away, and told me not to move,” she said.
After a couple minutes thinking of what she should do, and not knowing whether her attacker was still in the building, she entered a nearby office, locked the door, crawled under the desk with an office phone and contacted her friend, who told her to call the police.

When police arrived, Blair was taken to the hospital for a medical examination. “They told me what I needed to do,” she recalled. “There was a survivor advocate there, and I thought it was nice that some organization sent her to be with me since I didn’t have friends with me. She was there and went through what they were collecting for evidence. I thought if it helps to get this guy, it’s worth it. But we never found out who did it.”

A police officer took her to a friend’s house and advised her that she was lucky to be alive. “I had three months of free counseling through the victim’s assistance program and have done other programs, so it doesn’t bother me too much these days,” she said. “I’m in pretty good shape, but I had a lot of trouble for awhile.”

Just one month after her attack, she was scheduled to take a major exam, but didn’t do well. “Now that I look back, I was kind of numb to the attack,” she said. “I don’t totally understand what happens when psychological trauma happens, but my brain protected me from being upset all the time. I was kind of numb. I tried to go through the motions of the exam, but didn’t study really hard and took the test and failed very badly.”

After taking a few months off, she retook the exam, and did extremely well.  

“As soon as he trapped me, I thought ‘I’m in trouble here.’ I thought about an article I read in a magazine, and I can’t remember specifically what the advice was but it had something to do with doing whatever you think will save your life. So that’s my advice to others. I tried to grab the guy’s knife, but when he said not to do that, I was afraid of what he was capable of and thought it was better to cooperate. I think maybe I lived because of it and didn’t get stabbed. In some other instances, it might be best to fight back,” said Blair.

“It also helps that it was 25 years ago, and now I know everything turned out good, and I’m good,” she said. “It’s like I can say now that everything turned out fine.”