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COLUMBUS, OH (Toledo News Now) -
On Wednesday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced details of a plan to address existing gaps in sexual assault services across Ohio.
The formation of the new Sexual Assault Services Expansion Program comes after a survey conducted by the Attorney General's Office found that 59 percent of Ohio's counties do not have comprehensive, direct sexual assault services.
"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," said DeWine. "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 study found that only 36 Ohio counties offer comprehensive, direct sexual assault services. According to the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, a county with comprehensive, direct services offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, criminal justice advocacy, hospital advocacy, community outreach, crisis intervention services, referral services, and agency collaboration.
A total of 44 counties were found to offer some of those sexual assault-specific services, and eight counties offer few or no sexual assault-specific services.
Those eight counties include:
The Sexual Assault Services Expansion Program will provide grant funding for new regional sexual assault coordinators who will oversee the implementation of comprehensive, direct sexual assault services in all of Ohio's 88 counties over the next five years. The coordinators will recruit and train local volunteers, collaborate with local hospitals and criminal justice and mental health professionals, and provide training on how to meet the needs of sexual assault survivors.
The first year of the project will focus on expanding direct sexual assault services to Perry, Meigs, Wyandot, and Crawford counties. Year two will focus on Harrison and Monroe counties, and year three will focus on Fulton and Clinton counties. The coordinators will also work towards bringing counties with some level of sexual assault services to the comprehensive level.
"It is crucial that adequate victim services are available to anyone who has been sexually assaulted," said DeWine. "We know that these counties are doing the best they can, but they are struggling. This is why we are going to help."
The Attorney General's Office is also working to determine what additional resources can be geared towards prevention efforts, including youth education programs and public awareness campaigns.
Wednesday's announcement comes at the same time as Ohio Representatives Nan Baker and Kirk Schuring announced their proposed Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund legislation. Money from the fund would be raised through $100 sex offender registration fees. The money would go towards eligible rape crisis programs to provide services, such as hotlines, victim advocacy, and support services.