Public Safety

UI sees uptick in sexual assault reporting in 2017

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — More than 11 percent of all undergraduate and graduate students in the United States experience rape or sexual assault during their academic career, according to statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, and 4.2 percent of students say they have experienced some form of stalking since entering college.

At the University of Iowa, recently released data included in the UI Department of Public Safety’s 2018 Annual Security Report show the school saw an increase in sexual assault reports in 2017.

The UI released the data last week, as students completed their fifth week of classes, and includes incidents that occurred on and off campus and were reported to campus police, outside law enforcement entities or school personnel or administration staff.

Max Freund / The Gazette

According to the data, there were 52 rapes reported in 2017, up from 41 the year before — a 26 percent increase. Data from 2014 and 2015 show there were 29 rapes reported each year.

The school also saw an uptick in the reporting of other forms of sexual assault.

Incidents that involved “fondling” — an umbrella term used to describe any instances of unwelcome or forced touching — nearly doubled with 65 reported in 2017 compared to 35 incidents in 2016, according to the report.

UI Department of Public Safety spokesperson Hayley Bruce provided additional context, adding multiple incidents were reported by one victim

In that case, a victim reported being fondled 28 times by the same co-worker in an employment setting over the course of two months. As a result, Bruce said, “that one case had a significant impact on the data for fondling cases in 2017.”

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Despite the increase from 2016 to 2017, the numbers are significantly lower than the figures reported in 2015. According to the annual report, there were 201 fondling incidents reported in 2015. That number is considerably higher than the combined total number of incidents reported 2017, 2016 and 2014, which saw 64 incidents that year.

A large chunk of those 2015 reports, Bruce said, can again be contributed to one victim reporting multiple incidents.

“A victim reported and estimated they were fondled 42 times during a six-week period,” she said. “The respondent filed a cross-complaint alleging they were the victim of the 42 incidents of fondling, thus resulting in 84 of the counts of fondling in this category. This series of incidents was classified as occurring in a residence hall during a ‘dating relationship’ as defined by federal law. Therefore, these 84 incidents of fondling were also counted as 84 incidents of dating violence. This one case caused significant increases in the fondling and dating violence categories in 2015.”

Max Freund / The Gazette

Bruce added that “the University of Iowa is also home to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which impacts our stats significantly.”

The annual report also shows there was an uptick in reports of dating violence in 2017, while reports of domestic violence were cut nearly in half and reports of stalking saw a slight decline.

The report shows 37 instances of dating abuse were reported in 2017 — up from 22 the year before — while reported incidents of domestic violence dropped from 32 to 17 and stalking slightly dipped from 99 to 96.

An uptick in reporting numbers does not indicate there has been an increase in incidents, said Monique DiCarlo, the university’s Title IX coordinator.

“We don’t really know if it is an increase in incidents or an increase in reporting,” she said. “An increase in reports could very well be due to the fact that there is more effort and more conversation nationally that more people are coming forward and sharing their experiences.”

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DiCarlo, who also serves at the coordinator for the school’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Response, said her office has also seen an increase in reports, but said the uptick is likely “reflective of the work our organization is doing on campus,” to educate the campus community about prevention and available resources and support, as well as to remove barriers that keep people from reporting.

DiCarlo said reports fielded by the Office of Sexual Misconduct Response can vary widely from those tracked by the annual security report.

“We may have received a report in the past year, but that does not mean that incident occurred in the past year,” she said. “In some cases, the reporting party could be reporting an incident from their childhood or high school, and they are telling someone what happened to them for the first time.”

DiCarlo said the UI has a variety of initiatives in place that aim at preventing sexual violence, including education, community engagement and collaboration, and awareness campaigns.

Additionally, the UI has worked to devise a strategic plan to combat and prevent campus sexual assaults. According to the school’s website, the six-point plan for 2018 through 2021 aims to “prevent sexual misconduct, dating violence, and stalking; provide support to survivors; and hold offenders accountable.”

The plan outlined actions the school would take to crack down on offenders, increase support for survivors, improve prevention and education, improve prove communication regarding available student resources and support, increase funding and to open a regular line of communication with the UI President’s Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

“We’ve come a long way,” DiCarlo said. “In the 20-plus years I’ve been involved with this issue, I can point to things that have changed — policy development, expanded resources and support for survivors, increased awareness and education — so, I think we’ve been productive in developing assets for those who have experienced sexual violence and in opening lines of communication and creating a safe space for people to come forward and talk about their experiences.

“But we still have the problem,” she continued. “We still have work to do, and the national dialogue reflects that. There are still things that we need to look at, attitudes and behaviors that need to change and things that need to be taught. And, while there is more work to be done, the commitment at this school to do that work is really high.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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