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Rape reports surge on the University of Iowa campus
‘It is clear that people’s interpersonal behavior was volatile during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic’
COUNCIL BLUFFS — Reported crimes tied to social interaction jumped at the University of Iowa last year, including sexual violence, with rape reports surging to 64 in 2021.
That’s an increase from 38 reports in 2020, 50 in 2019, and 22 in 2015.
The UI Department of Public Safety last year also tallied 89 reports of stalking, up from 52 in 2020; 15 reports of dating violence, up from 11 in 2020; and 25 reports of domestic violence, up from 16 the year before, according to new crime statistics presented to the Board of Regents on Wednesday.
“We’ve had discussions locally and nationally with our peers, and it is clear that people’s interpersonal behavior was volatile during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce told The Gazette. “These statistics do not necessarily indicate that campus is any less safe than in years past, but they do indicate the university is receiving more reports.”
Iowa State University also saw an uptick in rape reports, going from 10 in 2020 to 22 in 2021. It also saw increases in fondling reports, from four to seven, and in stalking, from 22 reports in 2020 and 31 in 2021.
As with the UI, ISU Chief of Police Michael Newton credited some of the increase to the COVID era, saying “people have been out of human contact for a couple of years.”
“We're seeing that people are kind of struggling with how do we interact with people, get along with roommates,” Newton said.
Regarding sexual assault, he, too, said some of the jump might be more reporting.
“People feel more comfortable coming forward,” Newton said. “They feel more comfortable reporting to law enforcement, to campus security authorities.”
That’s a good thing, he said, even as officials aim to end sexual violence — having implemented prevention efforts in that pursuit.
“It's still a very underreported crime,” he said. “We know there are more sexual assaults that are happening than are reported on our campuses.”
The UI so far this year has accumulated far fewer rape reports than last year — with 10 reported through Monday, compared with 47 reported through the same date in 2021.
“There's obviously time for reporting to occur … but it's certainly trending in a good direction,” UI Public Safety Director Mark Bullock told regents.
Most of the rapes reported across all three of Iowa’s public universities occurred on campus and in the residence halls, including all 10 of those reported at the University of Northern Iowa in 2021.
The campuses last year reported more burglaries and vehicle theft — which public safety officials credited, in part, to trusting students leaving keys in open cars.
“I think it’s an Iowa thing to leave your keys in your car unlocked,” Iowa State’s Newton said. “So we really did some campaigns and talking with our students about, let's take our keys with us, let's lock our vehicles.”
In reporting assaults, UI officials highlighted their campus’ affiliation with the UI Hospitals and Clinics, “which impacts our statistics significantly.”
Specifically, nearly three-quarters of UI’s aggravated assaults over the last three years occurred at the hospital, justifying more collaboration between UI police and UIHC — a step the pair took last year by signing an agreement to provide full-time police presence on the main hospital campus.
UI police currently have three officers and a lieutenant at UIHC around the clock.
“By the end of the year, we'll have four,” Bullock said of plans to increase the officer presence. “Our goal is to have 24/7/365 coverage there in the health care setting.”
At Iowa State last year, alcohol arrests and referrals were above 2020 but not up to pre-pandemic levels. The UI reported far fewer liquor law arrests and referrals on campus in 2021 than in previous years — 219, compared with 334 in 2020, 563 in 2019, and more than 700 in 2017.
Liquor law arrests on public property did increase at UI last year to 85 — from 22 in 2020 and 65 in 2019. But Bullock reported the UI’s relatively recent decision to sell alcohol inside Kinnick Stadium hasn’t worsened alcohol-fueled problems.
“We're seeing less people come through the gates that are intoxicated than before,” Bullock said, reporting fans aren’t in a rush to drink or leave garbage by the gates “because they can get it inside.”
“It's making, from our perspective, a better game-day experience.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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