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Survey on University of Iowa sex assaults draws lackluster participation

School crafts new two-year plan to combat violence

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IOWA CITY — Even though fewer than 3,000 of a potential 28,787 University of Iowa students completed a survey gauging sexual violence on campus, one in five female undergraduates who did fill it out reported being raped since enrolling at the university.

Results of the campus survey were released Wednesday after months of delay both to encourage more participation and to craft a new plan for combating violence involving students.

Still, participation was so low — 9.3 percent — officials raised cautions about extrapolating the results campuswide, although many of the findings are consistent with national averages.

“We’re really needing to kind of be cautious about what we interpret in terms of the results right now,” said Carolyn Copps Hartley, UI associate professor and chair of the Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey Subcommittee of the UI Anti-Violence Coalition. “The response rate is low, and it could be that students who completed the survey — who chose to engage and complete the survey — are different than the students that didn’t take the survey.”

The university knows, for instance, that nearly 74 percent — or 1,972 participants — of those who responded were woman. Only 711 — about 5 percent — of male UI students responded.

Hartley said some researchers believe students who’ve experienced some form of sexual assault or are advocates might be more apt to participate.

“We really don’t have any way of knowing for sure,” she said, ”so what we’re saying about the data is this is what we know for the students who chose to take the survey.”

Those results show:

l In addition to the 21 percent of female undergrads who said they were raped since enrolling, 20.5 percent of female undergrad respondents reported being the victim of an attempted rape.

l About 11.4 percent of first-year undergraduate female students who took the survey reported being raped during their first semester.

l More than 56 percent of those who reported unwanted sexual contact, coercion or violence said the offender had been drinking during the incident and more than 64 percent said they, too, had been drinking.

A new, two-year campus anti-violence plan that was informed by the results was crafted over the summer. One of its goals envisions “ending sexual misconduct, dating violence, and stalking on our campus,” said Monique DiCarlo, UI sexual misconduct response coordinator.

The survey and plan come as the university is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over its handling of sexual assaults.

And it comes after the university already progressed through a “six-point plan to combat sexual assault” launched by then-UI President Sally Mason in 2014.

That directive tightened sanctions for offenders, bolstered support for survivors, boosted resources for education and prevention and updated campus communications.

The new plan continues that work in prevention, education, intervention and policy review.

The UI last year declined to be part of a survey run through the Association of American Universities, billed as one of the largest studies ever of campus sex assaults. Iowa State University did participate, and announced its findings last year.

With an overall response rate of 16.2 percent, ISU found that 9.7 percent of students experienced some sort of unwanted sexual misconduct during their college years — below the 11.7 percent average from the 27 campuses nationwide that also participated.

The UI opted out of that survey because it wanted a more comprehensive one tailored to its own needs and mission, Hartley said.

The university ended up using a new Administrator-Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative survey, called ARC3 — which was free and developed by a consortium of sexual assault researchers and student affairs professionals based on White House recommendations.

Hartley said the UI didn’t want to spend $85,000 to take part in the AAU survey, conducted by research firm Westat.

“I have an ethical issue that Westat is charging universities $80,000 to $100,000 to conduct this survey,” Hartley said. “That was one of the motivations of the developers of ARC3. They wanted to make this a resource for any campus that wanted to use it.”

The UI was one of the first campuses to use the survey, making comparisons with other reports challenging, Hartley said. The AAU survey had seven items measuring sexual violence victimization while the ARC3 had 25, she said.

“Two different measures, two different varieties of apples,” she said. “So even though we were all looking at sexual misconduct, we were looking at it in a different way.”

Hartley said the survey tool was successful, but her team is looking at how to increase participation in the future.

Source: University of Iowa

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