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University of Iowa assesses sexual violence prevalence, impact
Survey nets 4,268 responses for a 16-percent response rate
IOWA CITY — A quarter of the female University of Iowa students who responded to a spring 2021 survey examining sexual misconduct on campus said they’ve experienced some type of sexual violence since enrolling, according to results the university released Thursday.
And about 12 percent of the 2,774 female respondents — or more than 340 — said they’ve been raped since enrolling at the UI, according to the “Speak Out Iowa” 2021 survey findings. Nearly 18 percent of 183 respondents who identify as “transgender/non-conforming” said they’ve been raped, and 4 percent of the 1,311 male respondents reported they’ve been raped.
The UI’s 2021 assessment, although it follows similar surveys in 2015 and 2017, wasn’t meant to show trends or indicate improvement, according to UI administrators. Rather, it was intended to provide a snapshot of student experiences this year and to inform development of a new 2021-24 “anti-violence plan” specific to sexual misconduct, dating violence and stalking.
“UI has a committed team working collaboratively to educate about and prevent sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, provide support to survivors, implement a fair and equitable adjudication process, and hold offenders accountable,” according to a foreword to the report from top UI administrators, including President Barbara Wilson.
This year’s survey was sent virtually to 27,464 degree-seeking undergraduate, graduate and professional students. It got 4,268 responses for a 16 percent response rate. That’s down slightly from 23 percent in 2017, when 6,952 of the 30,458 total responded to the questions.
This year’s survey aimed to examine five key metrics:
- The frequency of sexual misconduct — like rape and other violent acts, stalking and harassment, including by faculty and staff and through the use of technology;
- Student perceptions of the UI response to sexual misconduct and student awareness of campus resources;
- Student experiences supporting friends who disclose being subject to sexual misconduct;
- How sexual misconduct affects student academic progress;
- And ways students negotiate sexual consent.
The survey found 47 percent of male respondents and 40 percent of female respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they “always verbally ask for consent before I initiate a sexual encounter.” About 31 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women agreed they typically seek consent “by making a sexual advance and waiting for a reaction, so I know whether or not to continue.”
A majority of women, 61 percent, and 44 percent of men said they typically communicate sexual consent “using non-verbal signals and body language.”
That is “not what we consider to be the best way to ask for consent,” according to UI Associate Professor Carolyn Hartley, who co-chaired the sexual misconduct survey subcommittee of the UI Anti-Violence Coalition.
Greek system implications
The survey results and new anti-violence plan come just weeks into the start of a new fall semester that almost immediately was gripped by controversy involving the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and allegations two of its members last fall sexually assaulted a woman, recorded it and spread the video online.
Court documents show Iowa City police collected evidence in that case, but never prosecuted the fraternity members who were accused. The absence of criminal charges prompted massive protests on campus outside the fraternity house, President Wilson’s house and on the Pentacrest. Some of those involved became raucous, vandalizing property and overturning cars.
The new anti-violence plan, in the works well before the recent protests, does address the Greek system in some of its goals, including suggestions to:
- Build capacity for “consent, healthy relationships, and bystander intervention education” with first-year students and fraternity and sorority members;
- Pilot new prevention education programming for Greek system members aimed at providing “developmentally appropriate education” based on how long they’ve been in the community;
- And pilot a “Fraternity Men’s Peer” conversation program about authentic masculinities.
Although some questions from this year’s survey mirror prior assessments, the 2021 edition rephrased some and included new increasingly relevant questions, like those asking about technology-facilitated harassment, how victimization affects academics and about sexual “acquiescence” — defined as “sexual experiences students may have complied to but did not necessarily give willing consent.”
According to the survey, “Women report significantly more acquiescence than men.” The main reason students acquiesced, according to the report, was to avoid an argument or upset a partner.
Dating violence, according to the report, seemed to have the biggest impact on academics — with 37 percent of its victims reporting missing or being late to class and delaying or failing an assignment. About 23 percent of victims of sexual violence thought about quitting school and 32 percent of sexual violence victims saw some or all of their grades drop.
Regarding technology-facilitated harassment, 41 percent of women respondents said they’d experienced digital harassment of some sort, and 29 percent of the women specified they’d been sexually harassed digitally.
Half of those reported being harassed over technology said they experienced it via social media, and 40 percent said it happened via text message.
The university this year also measured experiences of “transgender/non-conforming” students in a separate category, and that group experienced higher technology-based harassment and other types of sexual violence, like rape, attempted rape, and attempted coercion.
One question that was repeated from past iterations of the survey was one asking whether students think the UI would handle a sexual misconduct report fairly. Where 75 percent of women and 79 percent of men in 2017 said they thought so, those percentages dropped to 57 percent for women and 68 percent for men this year. Only 46 percent of transgender/non-conforming students thought the UI would handle a report fairly.
A higher percentage — 72 percent of women and 83 percent of men — thought the UI would take a report seriously.
Students who reported experiencing any kind of sexual misconduct were asked whether they told a UI office or individual about it, and half said they did so within a week.
About 40 percent said they told a UI counselor, 24 percent said they told the UI Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator, 21 percent said they told the Rape Victim Advocacy Program and another 21 percent told UI police.
“We are always gathering student feedback, which helped shape this year’s additions to the survey,” UI Vice President for Student Life Sarah Hansen said in a statement. “This approach allows us to focus on specific, emerging issues and address them head-on.”
One reason this year’s results shouldn’t be compared with past versions, the university said, has to do with the vastly different local, national and global conditions.
“We administered the 2021 survey during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the campus transitioned mainly to online learning,” according to the survey, which noted the 2015 and 2017 surveys went out in the fall.
“Based on feedback campus administrators collected about students’ stress levels related to online learning, the social turmoil of the Black Lives Matter protests, and the 2020 national political elections, the subcommittee decided to delay the survey release until the beginning of the spring 2021 semester.”
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