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Cedar Point sexual assault survivors seek justice

The amusement park's employee housing "a perfect storm for trouble," says sexual-violence researcher.

SANDUSKY, Ohio — In the hours after Raven Jones said she was raped inside the Cedar Point employee dorms, she was spiraling. She was angry. She was scared. Negative thoughts were flooding her brain. 

“At first, I didn’t want to file a police report. I was afraid I was going to be fired because they had rules and one of the rules was that you weren’t supposed to be in people’s dorms. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m going to lose my job over this.’ I was terrified,” she said. 

Raven is not alone. Five women have now told 11 Investigates that they were sexually assaulted while living in Cedar Point employee housing units. We have 27 police reports that allege sexual assaults in employee housing going back to 2017. Last season, there were 10 allegations, including seven rape accusations. Our two-month investigation was put together with the help of our sister stations WKYC in Cleveland and WBNS in Columbus.

Nicole Bedera, a sociologist and doctoral student at the University of Michigan, specializes in sexual violence on college campuses and in dorms. She said Cedar Point housing is a perfect storm for potential trouble. 

RELATED: Elected officials express shock over Cedar Point sexual assault revelations

“You have dangers of sexual violence anytime you see that someone’s entire life is controlled by a single organization. When they’re working and living and sleeping in the same place, around the same people, that’s a place where abuse can really proliferate,” she said.  

And she said Raven’s reaction was typical. 

“Victims will feel a pressure to stay silent to be able to keep their employment and their homes. It creates a huge amount of vulnerability.” 

In fact, of the 27 cases investigated by the Sandusky Police Department, 15 have been closed at the alleged victim’s request. 

But there are two reasons to believe there are additional victims. First, Cedar Point police continue to refuse to turn over their sexual assault reports. We have no way of knowing how many – if any – additional cases they have that were never prosecuted. The deal with the Sandusky police, according to Chief Jared Oliver, is that Cedar Point brings them in if there is a potential felony. Sexual imposition accusations are misdemeanors. Secondly, each of the women we talked to filed police reports. But some of those women said other co-workers had reached out to them to say they had been assaulted but did not report it. 

Victims reluctant to reach out 

According to Sondra Miller, the president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, many victims do not reach out to police. 

“We think that only about one-third of sexual assaults are ever reported to formal authorities,” she said. “What survivors tell us is they are afraid. They’re afraid of retaliation from their perpetrator. And they are afraid that they won’t be believed by the people whom they tell.” 

Those were two concerns of Kacie Wilson, who was sexually assaulted by Donelle Fowlkes in 2019. Fowlkes pleaded guilty to sexual battery and was sentenced to three years in prison. 

“I was relieved for a little bit (after he went to prison), but it still makes me wonder: What’s going to happen after he gets out of prison? I’m the reason why he’s in prison,” she said. 

In her mind, the danger is more plausible because Fowlkes was accused of assaulting two other women – one at Cedar Point and one in Toledo. He was not convicted in either case. 

And when she initially told her parents, she said she wasn’t going to go to police because “I know what girls go through. I know they get threats and people tell them, ‘oh, that’s not true.’” 

RELATED: CEDAR POINT: The violent dark side of Sandusky's treasured amusement park

And when she posted her story in a Cedar Point employees' Facebook group, that’s what happened. The moderator took down the post and others accused her of making up the story. 

And yet another obstacle for employees who report a sexual assault is the time that it takes to have the case work its way through the judicial system. Cedar Point employees are usually on campus for four to five months. Sometimes those victims leave and return to homes far away and it’s difficult for investigators to stay in touch. And the investigation itself is time-consuming as detectives wait on DNA results, interview witnesses, and prepare the case for prosecutors. 

“We know that two-thirds of sexual assaults are never reported to formal authorities like police or child welfare agencies. Only a small percentage of those get past the investigation and get passed on to prosecution. From there, there’s more digging into the situation. There’s a grand jury. There are hearings. Every step along the way is an opportunity for a survivor’s case to be thrown out,” Miller said. 

Little support for survivors

A records search supports Miller’s point about the lengthy timeline. In one of the Cedar Point cases, Alexander Makupson was charged with sexual imposition in August of 2018. His case is scheduled for trial later this month – nearly four years after the alleged incident. 

According to Miller’s data, only 2 percent of rapists ever spend time in prison. 

The process forces victims to relive the abuse – over and over. In Raven’s case, she said it just wore her down emotionally. 

“I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I sat in the shower for hours on end. I was spiraling,” she said. “With the lack of eating, the lack of sleep, and all the crying and just being so emotional over this whole situation, I had gotten to a point where, honestly, I didn’t want to be alive anymore.” 

11 Investigates has learned that since our investigation has begun, Raven has been asked to testify before the grand jury. 

As far as Cedar Point’s involvement, the three women who talked to us on camera told us that they received little support from Cedar Point, making their experiences even more frustrating. 

“After this happened to me, I got nothing from Cedar Point. I got nothing from my managers. Nothing. Cedar Point did not contact me at all. Nothing about their uniforms, nothing,” Kacie said. 

'Institutional betrayal'

Bedera said the victims’ frustration has a name among sociologists and psychologists. 

“It’s called institutional betrayal, where a survivor is betrayed by an institution they trusted when they tried to come forward and get help in the aftermath of a sexual assault. If that happens, that trauma is the same as being sexually assaulted a second time,” Bedera said. 

In a statement to WTOL, Cedar Point said, “The safety of our guests and associates is always our top priority. Through a variety of methods, our on-site housing is monitored 24/7. In addition, our team is available to assist associates at any time with multiple resources, including on-site security, an emergency texting program, a dedicated and confidential associate ‘Speak-Up’ hotline and access to mental health programs.” 

All three women we interviewed disputed parts of that statement. 

“I’m not really sure what this emergency texting program thing is that they are talking about,” said “L,” who requested her name not be used. She worked at Cedar Point for three seasons and said she was raped on Aug. 12, 2020. “The ‘Speak-Up’ hotline is something they have, but it is not something they make you aware of.” 

Regarding the availability of a team member to help associates at any time, Kacie said: “I called the RA office when I was locked of my room and they said, ‘oh someone will be up there to unlock it.’  I didn’t have shoes to wear outside and I waited an hour and nobody came, so I walked to the RA, and I still waited about 40 mins. People should feel safe in their housing space, but it’s nothing but trashy, and they let everyone go wild there.” 

For Raven, she said she hasn’t heard from Cedar Point, let alone offered any help, but that she needs to be in counseling. 

“I have a lot of nightmares, a lot of really bad dreams and sleepless nights.” 

We have tried on multiple occasions to get Cedar Point executives to sit down with us to discuss their policies and employee concerns, but we have been denied. 

For Miller, she said she hears similar stories every day at the Rape Crisis Center. 

“I would say to a survivor, ‘It doesn’t matter what you did, what you wore, how much you had to drink. Nobody had the right to violate you in this way. You did not deserve to be sexually assaulted because you went out for a night, you enjoyed yourself with friends, you went to a party. You can do all those things and expect to be safe. Someone took advantage of you.” 

Contributing: Silas Tsang

Are you a sexual assault survivor who needs help? We have links here to resources in Ohio, Michigan and across the country. 

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