Higher education

University of Iowa reports spike in sex offenses

None of 49 reports lead to arrest

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa last year recorded a threefold increase in sex offense reports on campus — 49 compared with 16 in 2015 — with the biggest bumps coming in reports for forcible rape and fondling.

The rise is amplified when looking back a few years. The university recorded 14 sex offense reports in 2014 and four in 2013 — meaning reports are more than 12 times higher than three years ago.

University officials said the increase, at least in part, is tied to a change in reporting. Under the federal Clery Act, university departments outside UI police are required to inform public safety when a crime has occurred on campus, according to a UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

“We began including these third-party reports in our annual statistics in 2014 in an effort to improve transparency,” Bruce said in an emailed statement.

The more recent spike in reports, made public Tuesday in Board of Regents documents, might point to a campus climate shift that has made reporting feel easier, safer, and even encouraged.

“UI police do not see any trends that would indicate campus is more dangerous than in years past,” Bruce said. “The increase could be attributed to an increased awareness of resources available on campus for sexual assault survivors.”

Ending sexual violence and improving campus climate have become top priorities for Iowa’s public universities and private colleges in recent years — as UI and Iowa State University, along with Grinnell College and Drake University, are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for their handling of sexual assaults.

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The federal government also has rolled out new rules, standards, and mandates, and the Iowa institutions have responded by updating policies and launching an array of initiatives.

Former UI President Sally Mason in 2014 introduced a six-point plan to combat sexual misconduct, and the university — in addition to updating its policies — has improved its Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator website.

The revamped site now makes it easy to report a problem or consider other victim-survivor options, including seeking medical attention, filing a criminal complaint, or making an administrative report by email.

UI in the fall also aired a new anti-violence plan geared toward ending sexual misconduct, dating violence and stalking. That plan aimed to expand prevention and education strategies — by developing new orientation programs, for example — integrate new intervention strategies, and stay up to date on policy reviews and improvements.

The plan grew out of data the university compiled through a campus climate survey. Although participation in that survey was low — fewer than 3,000 of a potential 28,787 UI students took part — one in five of the female undergraduates who did participate reported being sexually assaulted since enrolling at UI.

The new crime statistics made public Tuesday showed 19 forcible rape reports at UI in 2016, up from seven in 2015, six in 2014, and zero in 2013. The university’s forcible fondling reports last year reached 28, up from 10 in 2015, five in 2014, and two in 2013.

Despite the rise in reports on the UI campus, police made no sex offense-related arrests last year, compared with six in 2015. Bruce said officers only reach out to victims if they choose to share information, “unless we believe there is a compelling safety risk and there are leads in the case to further the investigation.”

In many cases, victims don’t want to pursue charges or don’t provide suspect information. Officers also might be unable to identify a suspect.

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“We respect the survivor’s decision about whether or not to report their experience to police,” Bruce said.

Sex offense reports at Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa stayed relatively flat in 2016, bumping up one on the year at Iowa State and inching up from one to three at UNI.

Despite its increase in sex offense reports, UI in 2016 saw its total offenses, charges, and arrests for all crimes continue to slide. In 2013, the university took 2,838 offense reports, filed 1,819 charges, and made 1,406 arrests. In 2016, the university recorded 2,172 offense reports, filed 457 charges, and made 330 arrests.

UI police have credited the downward trend to their decision several years ago to stop conducting checks in Iowa City’s downtown bars and to improved behavior before, during, and after home football games. That improvement, officials have speculated, could be tied to a 2010 “Think Before You Drink” campaign that involved ramped up enforcement of open container and drinking laws near Kinnick Stadium.

UI police in years past also noted staffing vacancies and turnover as potential causes of low arrest rates. This year’s report shows an increase in UI public safety employees — including 43 sworn and certified officers, up from 35 last year.

But Bruce said the department actually had 36 sworn officers in 2016. The other seven were hired after Jan. 1, making them irrelevant to the 2016 arrest and citation statistics.

Iowa State and UNI saw their statistics for offenses, charges, and arrests remain mostly flat from 2015 to 2016. When looking just at alcohol-related charges, all three universities noted only slight variances year over year — with UI reporting 233 alcohol-related charges, down from 255 in 2015.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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