Nearly 1 in 10 Iowa State students say they've experienced unwanted sexual misconduct

Even so, rate is lower than that found nationally in major study

Students walk down a sidewalk from Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Students walk down a sidewalk from Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Nearly 1 in 10 Iowa State University students experienced some sort of unwanted sexual misconduct during their college years, according to results announced Monday in one of the nation’s largest studies of campus sex assaults.

Even at 9.7 percent, the rate found at ISU was less than the average of 11.7 percent found in a study of 27 campuses by the Association of American Universities.

The association, which has 62 public and private research universities including ISU and the University of Iowa as members, conceived the survey in 2014, with awareness around campus sex assault gaining momentum nationally.

More than 150,000 students responded, constituting a participation rate of 19.3 percent.

The UI, which had concerns about both the timeline and completeness of the survey, opted out. It plans to conduct its own this fall.

At Iowa State, the rate of female undergraduate students who reported being subject to nonconsensual sex or touching by force or incapacitation was more than 19 percent, according to the AAU Climate Survey. That, too, is lower than the national average of 23 percent when measuring only female undergrads.

ISU remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for its handling of sexual assault reports.

“We have done a lot to address the problems of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment on our campus,” ISU President Steven Leath said in a statement. “But these findings will help guide us as we identify areas for continued improvement.”

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The UI did not participate because, it said, the proposed timeline did not allow stakeholders enough time to review the survey. UI Vice President of Student Life Tom Rocklin said concerns about the survey from researchers also weighed into the decision.

“The AAU survey did not cover the full range of issues we feel are important in addressing gender-based violence on our campus,” Rocklin said in a statement.

The UI’s plan for its own survey, Rocklin said, will collect data relevant to students and the institution and be available to all degree-seeking students, including those on campus and those taking distance courses.

Although results varied widely from campus to campus in the national survey, rates of sexual assault and misconduct generally were highest among undergraduate women and those identifying as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning or something else.

Nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol constituted a “significant percentage” of the incidents, the survey found. And overall rates of reporting to campus officials and police were low — ranging from only 5 to 28 percent.

In fact, aggregate data from all 27 institutions shows more than half the victims of even the most serious incidents said they didn’t consider the offense serious enough to be reported.

Iowa State generally had weak reporting rates among female students.

Only slightly more than half — 56 percent — said they believed it very or extremely likely that victims making a report would be supported by other students.

But the perception of ISU administrative support was better, with nearly 75 percent saying campus officials would take reports seriously.

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In 2013, ISU implemented mandatory sexual misconduct training for students. It includes bystander intervention education — developing the awareness, skills and courage to intervene in a situation when someone else needs help.

According to the survey, 14.4 percent of Iowa State’s respondents said they suspected a friend had been sexually assaulted and about 70 percent reported taking action to get help.

But about 40 percent said they had witnessed a drunk person “headed for a sexual encourage” and about 76 percent said they took no action.

“If you suspect your friend is intoxicated or impaired, it’s your responsibility to make sure your friend gets to a safe place,” Anthony said.

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