UI outlines efforts to address sexual violence
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For information about UI resources, reporting options, and how to get or provide help, see the Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator website: osmrc.uiowa.edu
In a statement last week in response to campus concerns about the number of Timely Warnings this school year, University of Iowa President Sally Mason called sexual assault a crime for which there is no excuse.
“The UI will take all the actions in our power to prevent rapes, to support victims, and to prosecute offenders,” Mason said. “Even one sexual assault in our community is too many, and we must confront this together as a community. I am committed to do everything in my power to end this terrible crime on our campus.”
Since the 2013-14 academic year began last August, the UI has issued eight Timely Warning notifications about reported sexual assaults and one additional warning about an assault on a woman that did not involve sexual contact.
Six of the nine cases occurred on campus. Additionally, five of the incidents involved acquaintances, and in three of those instances victims asked law enforcement not to investigate.
That was the situation Friday, when UI Police notified the campus in a Timely Warning that a female student informed UI staff that she was sexually assaulted on Feb. 15 at an off-campus fraternity house. The victim asked that police not investigate at this time, and they are respecting her decision.
UI officials say there are several factors contributing to this semester’s volume of Timely Warnings, which are issued by UI Police. First, more victims are stepping forward to report incidents. Second, the UI Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator and UI Police are working together more closely so police learn about cases reported outside of law enforcement channels, including to UI housing staff.
Meanwhile, the UI continues to expand on, enhance, and improve its resources and systems for educating about and managing sexual assault reports. Most recently, efforts have focused on encouraging more students and staff to sign up for bystander training through the Women’s Resource and Action Center.
Monique DiCarlo, the UI’s sexual misconduct response coordinator, says that bystanders are present in an estimated 65 percent of violent incidents. The more people who get bystander training, the more that can be mobilized to help interrupt the chain of events that can lead to sexual violence.
Offered since 2007, the program teaches participants to recognize high-risk situations, helps them to see themselves as both responsible and able to do something, and inspires them to act. Interventions include direct confrontation but often are subtler and simply aim to interrupt a chain of events or get in the way of an opportunity for assault to occur.
Education and collaboration
Other examples of recent work to address the issue include a review of new online products used for student education. Campus officials decided to shift to a new tool to better align it with campus prevention priorities for bystander messaging, and with a recent stalking awareness campaign. The stalking campaign has garnered national attention and was showcased by The Stalking Resource Center as a positive example of what colleges and universities can do to address the problem.
Additionally, in January, all UI law enforcement officers, some area law enforcement officers, and representatives from the Johnson County Attorney’s Office participated in an eight-hour training session on responding to sexual assault, stalking, and dating/domestic violence with a national consultant.
And last week, UI staff members from the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator, and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversityattended a Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women Training Institute to learn best practices related to adjudicating sexual misconduct, stalking, and dating/domestic violence cases. The UI was among a small group of schools asked to participate in a panel discussion to share best practices in policy, prevention, and response to sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking.
"The UI is not only deeply engaged in this effort, but is also providing leadership on this topic at a national level," DiCarlo says.
Existing and ongoing efforts to combat the problem of sexual violence include a UI policy that considers all university academic and administrative officers "mandatory reporters" and requires them to report sexual misconduct they witness or learn about through third parties. And in 2008, five years before it was federally mandated for universities, Mason required sexual harassment prevention training for all UI employees.
Raising student awareness about sexual violence begins even before they come to campus through a required online course that focuses on consent, risk reduction, and the importance of active bystanders. Students are given additional information and bystander skill building during orientation and several other times throughout their academic career.
This year, the Violence Against Women Act requires colleges and universities to begin reporting incidences of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, as well as of sexual assaults, burglaries, and other crimes for which reporting is currently required under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (or Clery Act for short). DiCarlo says the UI added stalking language to five UI policies a year ahead of the requirement.
Because talking about a violent incident with strangers can be uncomfortable, the UI encourages victims to take advantage of campus and community advocates. Advocates can confidentially answer questions, provide information about options, and help with safety planning. Victims have a right to include an advocate in meetings with university administrators, law enforcement, medical personnel, and in court proceedings.
Links to victim advocacy resources can be found on DiCarlo’s office website, osmrc.uiowa.edu, which also features information about university policies governing sexual misconduct, including judicial and grievance procedures as well as other victim resources.
One advocacy resource is the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, or RVAP, which staffs a 24-hour victim advocacy hotline, where survivors can get counseling and support. Advocates may also be found in the community through the Iowa City Domestic Violence Intervention Program and Monsoon United Asian Woman of Iowa.
Victims of sexual violence may choose to make a criminal complaint and/or an administrative policy complaint. The processes are separate but can be pursued concurrently (see osmrc.uiowa.edu/victim-options for more information).
UI officials say everyone on campus and in the community has a role in helping combat sexual violence. Here are some suggestions for getting involved:
- If you’ve recently learned about another person's experience of sexual misconduct, dating or domestic violence, or stalking: listen, don’t judge, don’t probe for details, and know and be clear and up-front about your ability to maintain confidentiality. See information for employees.
- Let the victim/survivor take the lead. Experiences of this nature take away an individual's power—don't compound this experience by putting pressure on someone to do what you think is right.
- Avoid unsolicited touching or hugging.
- Acknowledge what you don't know.
- Encourage the victim/survivor to contact a victim advocate or other confidential resource for support.
- If the victim/survivor is willing to seek medical attention(people who've been sexually assaulted can receive examinations at no charge at any area emergency room) or is willing to report the incident to the police and/or the Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator, offer to go with him/her or help connect him/her with a victim advocate who can do so.
- Volunteer with a prevention or advocacy program
- Get Bystander Training
- Take a class