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IOWA CITY - Amid heightened national scrutiny of campus sexual assaults, the University of Iowa is reporting a jump in sex offense reports, according to new annual crime statistics.
But officials say the increase from 2013 to 2014 might not mean the campus is more dangerous.
'We are hoping it's such an underreported crime that more people are coming forward,” said Dave Visin, interim assistant vice president and director of the UI Department of Public Safety. 'We are trying to make a more comfortable environment to report these offenses.”
The UI took 17 reports of rape and 59 reports of fondling on campus, up from a 2013 total of 13 forcible sex offenses - a category that was changed in the 2014 reporting year but earlier would have included both rape and fondling reports, Visin said.
Of last year's fondling reports, 50 were connected with one case that resulted in an arrest - former UI Hospitals and Clinics Dr. Foad Elahi, 50, who was accused of fondling one victim over several months, according to Visin and the UI crime report.
If 50 reports were counted as one case, rape and fondling reports at the UI increased from 13 in 2013 to 27 in 2014.
'But all we know is the reports are up,” said Monique DiCarlo, UI sexual misconduct response coordinator and deputy Title IX coordinator. 'We don't have any indicator that there are more incidents.”
Universities and colleges must report those sexual offense statistics - along with crimes like robbery, burglary, assault and liquor violations - to comply with federal law. The UI and Iowa State University are both under federal civil rights investigations of how the institutions have handled allegations of sexual misconduct.
Iowa State's newest report shows forcible sex offenses held steady at 14 from 2013 to 2014, and University of Northern Iowa's forcible sex offenses increased from 7 in 2013 to 10 last year.
The UI Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator also saw a notable increase in the number of reports it took last year related to sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence and dating violence.
Sexual assault reports to the UI office reached 82 last year, compared with 54 in 2013, according to DiCarlo. Stalking reports to the office increased from 12 to 33 year over year; domestic violence reports increased from 20 to 25; and dating violence reports rose from 28 to 32, according to DiCarlo.
Reports to the UI office differ from those reported through the federal law, in that the federal report is limited to campus crimes reported to police. The UI office, on the other hand, can take reports from victims who don't want to involve authorities but need support or accommodations. It also can take reports related to incidents that occurred off campus or even before a student enrolled, DiCarlo said.
'That number could include people who were sexually assaulted in high school but both parties are now on campus and the survivor reaches out for help,” DiCarlo said. 'We don't have jurisdiction to investigate, but we can help accommodate safety concerns.”
Despite the jumps in sexual violence reports, DiCarlo said she sees no reason to believe sexual violence is actually increasing on campus.
'I believe it's a result of our collaborative effort to increase reporting through more prevention work and addressing barriers to reporting,” she said.
Still, DiCarlo said, she'll feel better when she sees results from a first-of-its-kind climate survey that will be distributed to all UI students later this month or in early November.
That survey, which will be conducted online, will ask students to share anonymously about their experiences while enrolled at the university.
'That will be begin to build a benchmark for how often this is occurring,” DiCarlo said.
The university also recently underwent a review of its sexual misconduct policies and sanctioning guidelines to strengthen its response readiness, determine sanctions for students found responsible for sexual misconduct, and establish education and intervention programs for those students.
Last year, UI implemented new mandatory online prevention programming for all incoming students, and this year - for the first time - undergraduates will earn academic credit for completing the course.
Data from that program indicates the vast majority - 92 percent - would take action against interpersonal violence. In response to a new UI program required for incoming graduate and professional students, 87 percent said they have a better understanding of factors that contribute to sexual assault, and 89 percent said they better understand how to intervene when the violence might be occurring.
Both UI and Iowa State currently are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for their handling of sexual misconduct allegations. The UI investigation stems from a complaint filed in April by a UI student who said the university discriminated against him on the basis of sex and disability and also retaliated against him.
The Iowa State investigation is tied a student's allegations that she was sexually assaulted during the 2013-2014 academic year and then was discriminated against by the university.
At UNI, Helen Haire, chief of the institution's public safety department, said she, too, credits a bump in reporting to the increase there.
'I would like to think we have developed a community where people are more likely to report and feel more comfortable reporting, which is what we want so that we can get them the help that they need,” Haire said.
Still, she added, the goal is to get that number to zero.
'Because we don't have any,” she said. 'Not because they don't report it.”