Education

University of Iowa sees improved response to sexual assault-climate survey

Findings: 17 percent of undergrad females report having been raped since enrolling

Carolyn Hartley chair of the sexual misconduct and climate survey subcommittee of the University of Iowa anti-violence coalition talks about the results of the latest 2017 Speak Out Iowa campus climate survey on sexual misconduct at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Carolyn Hartley chair of the sexual misconduct and climate survey subcommittee of the University of Iowa anti-violence coalition talks about the results of the latest 2017 Speak Out Iowa campus climate survey on sexual misconduct at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — More than twice as many University of Iowa students in the fall responded to the campus’ second iteration of a safety and sexual misconduct survey, but many of the key themes were similar — including that about one in five female undergraduates reported being raped since enrolling.

Nearly 7,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students out of 30,458 participated in UI’s 2017 “Speak Out Iowa” campus climate survey, amounting to a 22.8 percent response rate — a vast improvement from the 2,683 students involved in 2015, providing a response rate of 9.3 percent.

The survey of students in fall 2015 reported 21 percent of undergraduate female students reported being raped since enrolling, compared with 17.2 percent who reported in fall 2017. The percentage of undergraduate males who reported rose to 6.1 percent from 3.8 percent, according to the new results, which found slight drops in attempted rape reports.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

When looking at the new results for sexual violence in a more broad sense, 32 percent of female respondents reported victimization and 14 percent of male respondents did so.

University officials warned about comparing the two surveys’ findings, noting the different sample sizes and changes to the survey questions, length, and how it was marketed — as the institution continues to fine-tune its version of the free and nationally-available Administrator-Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative Survey tool.

“We learned a lot from the administration of the first survey, and we were able to use everything we learned from that effort in 2015 to improve our administration in 2017,” said Carolyn Copps Hartley, UI associate professor and chair of the university’s sexual misconduct climate survey subcommittee. “But we’re still not able to compare rates between 2017 and 2015.”

The data are helpful, however, in informing a new three-year anti-violence plan meant to move beyond UI’s “Six Point Plan to Combat Sexual Assault,” charged by former UI President Sally Mason, and its first version of the UI anti-violence plan unveiled two years ago.

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The new plan and survey results come as sexual assault both on college campuses and off increasingly is becoming part of the national discourse, with reports and fallout emerging regularly as part of the international #metoo movement.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights has three open investigation at both UI and Iowa State University, including ones related to sexual violence and the schools’ grievance procedures.

And the UI Office of Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator has seen an uptick in all kinds of reports — which do not reflect crime statistics and could relate to incidents that happened off campus or before a student was enrolled.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

Sexual assault reports to the office have spiked from 54 in 2013 to 123 in 2016. Dating and domestic violence reports to the office have increased from 45 to 107 during that time period — although Monique DiCarlo, UI sexual misconduct response coordinator and Title IX coordinator, said that doesn’t necessarily mean incidents are up.

“We don’t believe that reflects increased incidents occurring,” DiCarlo said. “We believe that our work collaboratively around campus and in the community to raise awareness about the problem has allowed people to come forward and ask for help and report concerns.”

In fact, according to the survey, only about 39 percent of students reported telling anyone — even a friend — about their victimization.

“That’s why it’s important when reporting goes up that we not see that as a negative thing necessarily,” DiCarlo said. “Knowing how hard it is and that most people don’t come forward to report, we’re grateful that people are willing to come forward and ask for help.”

Because the campus survey in the fall was anonymous, officials said they believe results provide a reliable snapshot for those students who participated.

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“The higher response rate along with the weighting with the data we did allow us to have greater confidence,” Hartley said. “But the rates are still considered to be estimates since not all students did respond to the survey, and there could be some differences between those who students who chose to take the survey and those who didn’t.”

Other key findings

  • Female students reported significantly higher rates of all types of sexual misconduct than males — with 32 percent of females reporting some type of sexual violence victimization, compared with 14 percent of males.
  • Except for sexual harassment by faculty and staff, undergraduates reported much higher rates of all types of sexual misconduct than graduate students, with 27 percent reporting sexual violence victimization, compared with 14 percent of graduate students.
  • For those reporting sexual violence victimization, alcohol and/or drug use before the incident was common — with 61 percent of victims reported using alcohol or drugs and 59 percent reporting the perpetrator had done so.
  • Males often were the perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment, both for female and male respondents.
  • Students were far more likely to disclose incidents to friends or roommates than formally to administrators or police, for example. About 95 percent said they sought informal support for sexual violence, compared with 20 percent who sought formal support.
  • UI students, in a finding perhaps related to reporting habits, said they had limited knowledge about the reporting process and where to access help — with just 36 percent saying they understand what happens when students report and 44 percent saying they know where to make a report.
  • Most female and male students did report a strong understanding of affirmative consent — 80 percent among females and 71 percent among males.
  • Despite some degree of ignorance, students reported a favorable perception of how the university would respond to a student report of sexual misconduct — with about 90 percent believing the university would maintain their privacy.

The university in recent years has rolled out new training modules and requirements for incoming students, stressing — among other things — bystander intervention, which asks students to look for warning signs of sexual misconduct and intervene.

But, according to the new findings, fewer than half of students reported consistently intervening when given the chance. Just 29 percent said they spoke up against sexist jokes, 40 percent said they intervened with a friend who was being physically abusive to someone, and 46 percent “intervened when a friend was trying to get someone drunk and do something sexual.”

The university’s new anti-violence plan hopes to address that, among other things, by expanding campus messaging, reviewing online incoming student trainings, and identifying options for more education.

The plan also seeks to engage faculty and staff in a more robust way, continue collaborating with alcohol-harm reduction efforts, and charge a “healthy masculinity task force” to define a mission and set targets, coordinate training opportunities, and host monthly discussions “to shift social norms.”

As far as policy goes, the university aims to review and revise policies consistently “to ensure they are clear, fair, and effective.”

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