Start by Believing, an event that uses a sexual assault case to explain the investigative process and what it is like from the sides of both the detective and survivor, took place Monday night.
The event included teaching attendants how to respond and talk to someone who has been assaulted, the barriers survivors encounter when trying to report an assault and how a person's brain reacts to the trauma and stress of an attack.
Start by Believing is meant to invite more open conversation and complete participation, George Harlow, Ohio University Police Department captain, said.
Brie Sivy, a junior at Ohio University, shared her story of sexual assault from her freshman year at OU.
Sivy was found the night of her sexual assault in her dorm by her resident assistant, who then called the police and her parents.
“I don’t know if I would’ve reported if my RA didn’t find me,” Sivy said.
Sivy said her motivation to report started after seeing her father cry, which turned into anger after hearing her attacker’s statement of the events that night.
Mathew Austin, the OUPD detective on her case, helped Sivy through the investigation. Austin said sexual assault cases are his least favorite because of the low success rate and small chance of prosecution.
The DNA tube from Sivy’s initial rape kit came back with her attacker’s DNA, but also the DNA of another person, making it difficult for people involved in the investigation to believe her original story.
The lab had to test Sivy’s past consensual partners, and when none of them matched the other DNA from the test, it was proven to be contaminated. Austin, Sivy and the lab had no idea why. While it was tough for Sivy to know people were doubting her story, she still had faith in her case.
“In the end, they were just trying to do their job,” Sivy said.
After working with Sivy, Austin changed his perspective on cases of sexual assault. He no longer believed success was dependent on if the perpetrator got a conviction, but whether or not a survivor came forward and reported the sexual assault.
An audio clip from Sivy’s interview showed an example of the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) Technique. The technique is used to help survivors remember traumatic experiences in a sensory context because a person’s brain may not be able to recollect specific information under trauma or high-stress situations.
With Title IX, Sivy said the university hearing was done within a month and a half. After reporting, OUPD immediately assigned investigators to her case, who contacted her and asked if she wanted to move forward in the investigation with the university.
“I don’t think they get enough praise for what they’re able to do for our community,” Sivy said.
After working with Title IX and having a pre-hearing meeting, Sivy said she met with two investigators and her attacker for her hearing. The attacker was expelled from the university and was not allowed to step on campus.
Through Start by Believing, Sivy wanted to show people OUPD is a resource to help survivors during sexual assault investigations and share the investigation process from the police and the university.
“I think I was more surprised at how understanding they were,” Sivy said. “For OUPD, I think a lot of people assume that they’re the bad guys that come through on Palmer Fest and break up all your parties and arrest all of your friends.”
Correction: A previous version of the photo caption misspelled Mathew Austin’s name. The caption has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.