UI outlines strategies for addressing sexual violence
Friday, December 20, 2013

The University of Iowa is committed to making the campus safe, including from sexual violence.

While the number of forcible sexual assaults reported on the UI campus declined from 20 in 2012 to nine so far in 2013, UI officials believe such assaults are universally under-reported and say a single incident is one too many.

“Sexual misconduct is never acceptable,” says UI President Sally Mason, who mandated sexual harassment prevention training for all UI employees in 2008, five years before the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that will require all colleges and universities to prevent and promote awareness of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking starting in 2014.

In fact, Georgina Dodge, the university’s Title IX coordinator and chief diversity officer, says responsibility for preventing sexual misconduct and for protecting and supporting its victims is—quite literally—everyone’s responsibility. “By UI policy, all university academic and administrative officers are considered ‘mandatory reporters’ and are required to report sexual misconduct,” she says.

How to help

Everyone has a role to play in making sexual violence history. Here are a few suggestions for how you can make a difference.
Offer assistance
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.
* Know and be clear and up-front about your ability to maintain confidentiality or not. 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 or 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.

Get involved
Volunteer with a prevention or advocacy program
* Get Bystander Training
* Take a class

Support local organizations
Rape Victim Advocacy Program
* Women’s Resource and Action Center
* The Domestic Violence Intervention Program

Campus leaders say strategies, policies, and research behind combating this problem continue to evolve and that the university has made significant strides to raise awareness, educate students and employees, centralize and simplify the reporting process, and promptly investigate and alert the public when incidents occur.

“Clear policies and procedures are an important part of campus response, but we also need to address the tendency in our culture to think it’s none of our business or it’s not our problem when someone is in trouble,” says Monique DiCarlo, the UI’s sexual misconduct response coordinator. “Bystanders are present in an estimated 65 percent of violent incidents. If we can mobilize bystanders, we can prevent sexual violence.”

UI officials say a first step in the process of preventing sexual violence is gathering data to help shape successful strategies.

That was the goal of a UI-funded survey of sexual harassment conducted last year of 713 undergraduate students by the UI Council on the Status of Women. [The report may be found here.]

The survey, a follow-up to one conducted in 2005, sought to measure the degree to which undergraduate students are affected by sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“We’ve provided the data to the UI sexual misconduct response coordinator to identify strategies that better serve and protect the UI student population,” says Jennifer Loman, a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in English and chair of the Council on the Status of Women.

Released this month, the survey results show that nearly 30 percent of respondents reported at least one experience of direct pressure for sex. Additionally, reports of sexual misconduct were higher in 2012 than 2005 across five out of six comparable measures. And despite other UI data suggesting strong learning outcomes from the course, respondents indicated that the current version of the online sexual safety education program required for first-year students, nformed.net, could be more helpful.

At the same time, the survey also showed that a majority of students are aware of UI policies and examples of sexual misconduct, including what affirmative consent means. This outcome supports the post-test data from the course.

Loman says the council, working with partners on campus, is already putting some of the lessons learned from the survey to work. Among other things, the campus is working to raise awareness among potential bystanders to sexual misconduct and give them tools to make a positive difference in those situations.

Additionally, the council is recommending the university formally undertake regular assessment of sexual misconduct and unwelcome pressure through similar surveys in the future.

“Better data lead to better decisions,” Loman says. “Putting what we learn to work is critical to making real change.”

Awareness and education

The university uses a number of approaches to make the campus aware of laws, policies, and expectations regarding sexual misconduct that go beyond just telling students to walk in pairs and carry an alarm whistle. The UI actively promotes conversation-changing programs like consent education and bystander training.

Campus education aims to achieve three goals: prevent misconduct, promote help-seeking behavior, and ensure prompt and effective responses when misconduct occurs. And students are educated in three phases.

The pre-orientation phase includes educating students before they come to campus through a required online course focusing on consent, risk reduction, and the importance of active bystanders. The orientation phase includes providing information and bystander skill building as they arrive on campus. And the post-orientation phase includes education activities reaching students throughout their academic career. The survey by the Council on the Status of Women suggests that more emphasis be placed on post-orientation strategies, as older students reported being less familiar with the policy’s affirmative consent standard.

Particular emphasis is being placed on bystander education, which DiCarlo says expands the conversation about sexual assault beyond the negative messages that consist of telling men not to rape and women not to get raped. She says such messages alienate the vast majority of men, blame victims for being assaulted, and perpetuate the fallacy that all rapists are men and all victims are women.

Bystander education has been picking up steam nationally as the recommended prevention education strategy, most recently by its inclusion in the federal reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. College campuses will soon be required to have bystander education programs in place.

Since 2007, the Women’s Resource and Action Center has been providing bystander training to people of all genders—teaching students and employees to recognize high-risk situations, helping them to see themselves as both responsible and able to do something, and inspiring 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.

Even the language used to talk about the problem of sexual violence and sexual misconduct is broadening. In 2014, the Violence Against Women Act will require 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 this is a good thing because those kinds of previously unreported behaviors can involve or lead to sexual violence. It’s also another example of an area where the UI has been forward-looking. DiCarlo facilitated a policy review last year that added stalking language to five UI policies.

“While we are committed to continuously improving our efforts, our campus has been ahead of the curve in many aspects related to the new federal requirements. Our campus coalition has included dating/domestic violence and stalking in its prevention, policy, and victim service response work since 2006,” she says, referring to the UI Anti-violence Coalition [see osmrc.uiowa.edu/anti-violence-coalition].

Because research suggests that perpetrators often use drugs or alcohol in cases of sexual violence, efforts to combat such behavior are closely linked to the university’s ongoing, proactive, and evidence-based efforts to combat high-risk drinking among students—efforts that have seen some success. Since 2009, for instance:

  • The proportion of UI students engaging in high-risk drinking in the two weeks preceding the survey is down 17 percent to the lowest level in 20 years (70.3 percent in 2009; 58.7 percent in 2013). Source: National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey
  • The average number of drinks consumed per drinking occasion is down 20 percent (7.43 in 2009; 5.92 in 2013). Source: National College Health Assessment survey
  • The proportion of students reporting drinking in the 30 days preceding the survey is down nearly 12 percent.

“In recent years, alcohol has become a bit of a hornet’s nest in sexual assault prevention,” DiCarlo says. “There’s a correlation that is hard to ignore, but the connection between these topics is sometimes used as a way to shift responsibility from a perpetrator to a victim. One of the ways the UI is tackling this issue is by collaborating with the UI’s alcohol harm reduction efforts and reinforcing that alcohol is a perpetrator’s most common and effective weapon. View it as such.”

Centralizing and simplifying reporting

Sexual misconduct can devastate victims, and the university has worked hard to make it as easy as possible for someone harmed to get the help and support they need to move forward after an incident has occurred. This includes removing real and perceived barriers to counseling, health care, and administrative and law enforcement services.

Central to this effort is a one-stop website, managed by DiCarlo’s office, at osmrc.uiowa.edu. The site includes information about university policies governing sexual misconduct, including judicial and grievance procedures; victim resources; options for victims that include information for contacting an advocate to making a criminal complaint.

And because talking about a violent incident with strangers can be uncomfortable, the UI encourages people 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.

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.

Additionally, the Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator can assist with arranging academic and housing accommodations for victims and help protect survivors from retaliation.

Because sexual violence is also a health issue, the UI has eight dedicated Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) specially trained to provide comprehensive care to sexual assault victims, including conducting forensic exams and providing expert testimony if a case goes to trial.

Pamela Terrill, a registered nurse and staff member in the UI College of Nursing, leads SANE training for registered nurses across Iowa and beyond. In the 10 years SANE training has been in place at the UI, she estimates more than 200 nurses have been certified.

Terrill also serves as the Johnson County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) coordinator, which also includes local law enforcement agencies, the Johnson County Attorney’s Office, and the emergency rooms of both UI Hospitals and Mercy Medical Center, “so victims can go to either ER,” she says.

“We encourage anyone who experiences an assault to consider having an exam, and because sexual assault is a crime, our services are provided by the state at no cost,” she says.

Investigating and alerting the public

Depending on the nature of an incident, victims of sexual misconduct may choose to make a criminal complaint and/or an administrative policy complaint. The processes are separate but can be pursued concurrently (more at osmrc.uiowa.edu/victim-options).

Regardless what kind of response is pursued following a case of sexual violence, the UI Department of Public Safety must alert the campus via a “Timely Warning” if, in accordance with the Clery Act, the incident is considered to pose a serious or continuing threat to the campus community.

Timely warnings are emailed to faculty, staff, and students, and posted to the Iowa Now news website, for incidents ranging from criminal homicide, certain sex offenses, and aggravated assault to motor vehicle theft, robbery, burglary, and arson. Because some incidents aren’t reported immediately, timely warnings may be sent out hours or days after the incident has occurred.

By contrast, The Clery Act requires universities to issue Emergency Notifications (at the UI, these come in the form of Hawk Alerts) when there is confirmation that a dangerous situation or significant emergency exists that poses an imminent threat to the campus such as an armed intruder, an explosion, or an approaching tornado.

At times, the issuance of Timely Warnings may give the community the impression that the number of incidents is rising, even if that’s not necessarily the case. In the past month, for example, the UI issued three Timely Warnings for three unrelated cases.

On the horizon

UI officials continually work to refine and improve efforts to raise awareness about and combat sexual violence, and they say their work won’t be done until there are no incidences of sexual violence. Some examples of current or forthcoming work include:

  • A campus committee is reviewing new online products to use in the required online course for incoming students, working to ensure the content is useful and relevant to students
  • There are plans to better promote and encourage bystander training among students.
  • A stalking awareness campaign is being planned for spring 2014.
  • UI Police will host a sexual assault training session for all personnel with national consultant Tom Tremblay in January 2014.

Additionally, the university is digging deeply into the existing research to find how to make sure messages about the issue reach—and, most important, have the desired effect upon—the people who most need to hear them: those at risk of becoming victims, those at risk of becoming perpetrators, and those who may find themselves in a position to intervene and prevent an incident from occurring.

“National research in recent years make it clear that sexual aggression between acquaintances is a serious problem on college campuses across the country,” says Teresa Treat, an associate professor in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology. “Unfortunately, sexual-assault prevention programs on college campuses appear to affect attitudes and knowledge far more than behavior and the incidence of sexual assault, so much work remains to be done.”

In the meantime, DiCarlo encourages students, faculty, and staff to make use of all the resources available on campus, including advocates, violence prevention training, and educational resources.

“There are many pieces that need to be in place to complete the puzzle of sexual violence prevention,” DiCarlo says. “From making sure everyone understands the policies and expectations on campus, to dealing effectively with the relatively small percentage of people who commit these crimes.”

RVAP director Karla Miller agrees and said in an article earlier this year that coordination and resources on campus continue to expand and improve.

"In 40 years, we've never seen the magnitude of positive institutional change regarding sexual assault and harassment as we have in the last four to five years,” Miller says. “The university has focused on policies and procedures that afford the appropriate treatment of and equal rights to victims, while increasing perpetrator accountability."

Adds Sam Cochran, director of University Counseling Service, "We're not near where we need to be and it will probably take a few generations to finally realize the kind of cultural shift needed to eliminate this kind of violence. But I'm encouraged by the progressive initiatives I see on our campus to change the conversation. In my work with our younger students, I have a real sense of hope."