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How sexual assault cases are investigated by local police

When it comes to local police departments investigating sexual assaults, each case is unique in the way it is handled.

Limited information is available to the public during investigations by the Athens Police Department and the Ohio University Police Department due to the confidentiality of the people involved and the effect releasing information could have on the investigation. 

“There is significant law in place for both survivor and uncharged subjects,” APD Chief Tom Pyle said.

Police can release basic information about the crime to the public. Other information, such as names, however, is not public information until the case is closed, Pyle said. Even after someone is indicted, the person has the ability to petition for the court to have their name sealed until a certain point in the preceding. 

“We are bound by Ohio law not to release uncharged suspects’ names,” Pyle said. “Not just on sexual assault cases but any case, including misdemeanors.”

For any case, police will never release a name until the person is charged formally in court. If the person remains an uncharged suspect even after a case is closed, their name will be redacted from the report. The reason is because of the stigma attached to being named as a suspect in a crime, especially a sexual assault crime, Pyle said. 

The way investigations are organized for OUPD and APD depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. 

Pyle said there are confidentiality and privacy concerns when investigating sexual assault cases by APD. 

“There is no set protocol ... there are a bunch of things on a list that we’d like to do, but in certain circumstances you either can’t do, won’t be productive to do or have chosen not to for many of these concerns out there,” Pyle said. 

During investigations, APD’s concerns are for survivors and quickly collecting evidence. Pyle said APD doesn’t want the perpetrator to know they are being investigated so they won’t try to cover their tracks. It is also common for the survivor to start the process and wish to remain anonymous and not pursue the matter. 

According to Ohio law, the statute of limitations on rape is 25 years. APD investigations are victim-focused, which could include continuing the investigation later than when it was initially reported.

When OUPD receives a report of sexual assault, it begins the investigation as quickly as possible and starts to collect evidence, such as interviewing all parties involved and possibly getting search warrants. Equity and Civil Rights Compliance, or ECRC, is also notified for the administrative investigation.

“It really depends on the crime and what circumstances happen,” Tim Ryan, OUPD lieutenant, said. “Each time is unique and has its own fact pattern, so it depends.”

There are usually two types of investigations that occur for sexual assault cases: criminal and administrative, Ryan said.

OUPD handles the criminal investigation for the university, which focuses on the violations of the Ohio Revised Code. Offices, such as ECRC and Community Standards, handle administrative investigations that focus on university policy or student code of conduct violations. 

OUPD’s jurisdiction is different from the jurisdiction of ECRC or Community Standards, Ryan said. Law enforcement’s jurisdiction is based on geography. OUPD investigates all crimes occurring on property owned by the university. The jurisdiction for the ECRC and Community Standards is largely based on the affiliation of the parties to the university.

“As an example, OUPD would investigate an assault that occurs on campus between two non-affiliated parties while ECRC or Community Standards would not,” Ryan said in an email.

OUPD releases crime alerts with basic information about the incident that is posted to its website and sent out in an email to students. The status of crime alerts on the OUPD website can be active, closed or inactive. Currently, the four recent sexual assault crime alerts from OUPD are in active status. 

OUPD also proactively informs sexual assault victims about the Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP) and offers the services. It’s not uncommon for a victim to have come to OUPD having already made contact with SAP, Ryan said.

Sexual assault survivors can reach out to the program directly or through other groups, such as law enforcement or ECRC, to be provided an advocate, Kim Castor, director of SAP, said.

“We will never reach out to a survivor without their permission to do so,” Castor said. “We want it to be their choice to work with us.”

SAP advocates work with survivors through university administrative process, legal investigative and prosecutorial processes, or survivors who are not going through either process.

Full information of any investigation can’t be released until the case is closed. Then, anyone can request the report because it’s a public record.


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