Education

Nearly 1 in 4 Iowa State female undergrads report being sexually assaulted while in college

'Even one incident is too much,' Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen says

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Nearly one in four female undergraduate students at Iowa State University say they’ve experienced sexual assault during their college careers, according to new climate survey data made public Tuesday.

The 23 percent of female undergraduate respondents to Iowa State’s 2019 web-based questionnaire who reported being assaulted — defined as nonconsensual penetration, forced touching or incapacitation — was 4 percentage points higher than results from the last survey in 2015.

Of the 4,830 ISU students who responded to the optional survey in March — about 15 percent of the 32,021 male and female undergraduate and graduate students — 11.3 percent said they’ve experienced sexual assault during their college years.

Although that was below the 13 percent average of all 33 institutions that participated in this year’s Association of American Universities backed climate survey, Iowa State’s 11.3 percent was nearly 2 percentage points higher than the 9.7 percent who reported experiencing sexual assault in 2015.

ISSUE WILL BE ADDRESSED ON CAMPUS

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen responded to the findings with a commitment to prioritize addressing the issue on campus.

“Even one incident is too much,” Wintersteen said in a statement. “These results provide valuable information that will help us refine our training programs and move us closer to our goal of preventing sexual assault and misconduct on our campus.”

The response, she said, must take several forms — at both the local and state level — and address causes of sexual assault and misconduct, encourage victims to come forward and intervene when students are at risk.

The 2019 AAU climate assessment follows its initial 2015 survey — increasing participation to 181,752 students on 33 participating college and university campuses, up from more than 150,000 students on 27 campuses.

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Neither the University of Iowa nor University of Northern Iowa participated in the AAU survey, although the UI conducts its own campus climate assessments — producing one on sexual violence in 2017 and another on diversity, equity, and inclusion in April.

For all the 21 schools that participated in both the 2015 and 2019 AAU surveys, the rate of nonconsensual sexual contact by force or inability to consent increased by 3 percentage points.

LGBTQ RATES HIGHER

At Iowa State, the rate of reporting sexual assault was slightly lower for graduate and professional women than for undergraduate females, at 9 percent.

Rates of those reporting sexual violence were much lower among ISU men, with 4 percent of undergraduates reporting being victimized, and 3 percent of graduate and professional men doing so.

Incidence rates were higher among ISU students identifying as LGBTQ+, at 17.4 percent. And 57 percent of the incidents reportedly occurred on campus or an affiliated property — like a residence hall or fraternity house.

About 80 percent of the reported offenders were students, and one-third were currently or had previously been intimately involved with the victim, according to the Iowa State findings.

FEW REPORT ASSAULT

Despite the rise in prevalence, only 16.5 percent of female victims who responded to the survey — and almost no men — contacted ISU or community resources regarding their assault or experience. The most common reason for not reporting included embarrassment, shame and thoughts it wasn’t serious enough to warrant outside intervention.

Some also expressed confidence they could handle it alone or felt concern about getting someone else in trouble.

Iowa State did report improved awareness of university resources — with 36 percent saying they’re very or extremely knowledgeable about sexual assault and misconduct definitions and know where to seek help.

More than three-quarters said they believe ISU officials would take such a report seriously.

In terms of campus perceptions, more than a quarter of undergraduate women believe sexual assault and misconduct is very or extremely problematic at Iowa State, with 18.4 percent of the respondents total holding that view.

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Just 5 percent of the total thought they would be victimized. But, among female undergraduates, one in 10 reported feeling it was very likely or extremely likely they would experience sexual assault or misconduct in the future.

ALCOHOL A FACTOR

In analyzing circumstances around sexual assault, the survey found more than 70 percent of women who reported nonconsensual penetration, physical violence or incapacitation were drinking alcohol before the assault, according to an Iowa State news release.

Nearly 90 percent of women and 85 percent of men who experienced “sexual touching due to their inability to consent” reported drinking before the assault.

In a statement, Assistant Vice President for ISU Diversity and Inclusion Margo Foreman stressed, “No victim is responsible for their own sexual assault, including if they have been consuming alcohol.”

“However,” she said, “because alcohol is such a prevalent risk factor, it is critical that we focus some of our educational efforts, including bystander intervention training, on bars and nightclubs, parties and other environments where alcohol consumption is common.”

BYSTANDERS HELP

Iowa State has an amnesty policy for students who report sexual assaults involving alcohol. And the recent AAU survey found friends and bystanders play an key role in preventing sexual assault — with 73 percent of the nearly 13 percent of students who witnessed a situation they thought would lead to assault intervening in some way.

Nearly 44 percent directly intervened by interrupting the situation or confronting the person engaging in bad behavior.

“These actions may seem small at the time,” ISU Dean of Students Vernon Hurte said in a statement. “But they can make a profound difference in the lives of potential victims.”

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

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