Students speak out on sexual assault progress


One year after the establishment of University of Iowa President Sally Mason’s six-point plan, student activists feel that there needs to be more progress made toward preventing sexual misconduct.

UI senior Miranda Gehris, who wrote a letter to the editor published in The Daily Iowan at the time, said the issue is still prevalent on campus.

“To truly tackle this issue, we need more people to stand up and prevent the culture of sexual violence as ‘the norm’ from even being a presence on our campus,” she said. “When someone makes joke about rape or sexual violence, regardless of gender, they are perpetuating the idea that it is OK.”

A little over a year ago, Mason met with the DI during a monthly Q&A and was asked about the increase in the number of sexual assaults on campus. She said it would be the goal to see sexual assault never happen, but that it was not a realistic goal given human nature, and that better understanding the issue will help those through the difficult situations.

The UI community responded strongly with organized protests and a flood of letters to the DI commenting on her word choice.

Mason retracted her comment and made several public apologies before announcing a six-point plan to combat sexual misconduct, which includes cracking down on offenders; increasing support for survivors; improving prevention and education; improving communication; adding funding; and listening more and reporting back.

“Since it was introduced in February 2014, we’ve made substantial progress on President Mason’s six-point plan to combat sexual assault, which is an important commitment to prevent sexual violence, provide support to survivors, and hold offenders accountable,” said Monique DiCarlo, the UI sexual-misconduct-response coordinator and deputy Title IX coordinator, in a statement.

The six-point plan also led to the UI establishing its first-ever sanctioning guidelines for sexual misconduct, committing to funding three prevention-education specialist positions at the UI Women’s Resource and Action Center and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, and increasing funding for specially trained nurses to consult with survivors.

UI graduate student Rachel Kunze said education for students has gotten better, but there’s still work to be done.

“I feel there is more general awareness among the student body, but I don’t think it’s really reached the bar,” she said. “I don’t feel safer out at night having drinks or walking around as a woman. Yes, I feel that it’s getting better, but no, I don’t feel that it’s anywhere it needs to be by any means.”

The UI was awarded a $300,000 grant by the Department of Justice Office Violence Against Women earlier this year to continue its progress on ensuring the campus is safe, equal, and fair, said UI Jeneane Beck, the senior director for news media relations at University Communications & Marketing.

Graduate student Jeannette Gabriel, a founding member of Radical Organizing Against Rape, helped organized several protests at the time. Efforts by the group led to bystander training for staff at Brothers Bar & Grill, 125 S. Dubuque St.

Gabriel said she does not believe the six-point plan can effectively “address and eliminate the rape culture that operates with near impunity in Iowa City.”

She suggested that, for real action toward preventing sexual assaults to happen, several things must first take place.

Gabriel said she believes more comprehensive training should be available to all incoming freshmen about sexual misconduct and that accusers should be treated with more respect after making a report.

She also said she believes the current transportation system is not adequate to ensure safety, saying routes should be expanded and more options should be available to men.

Since February 2014, the UI has expanded Nite Ride by adding a second vehicle and lengthening the service from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week.

DiCarlo said campus officials will continue to work together to improve the climate on campus so more survivors feel comfortable coming forward.

Gehris said she believes people need to actively and forcefully speak out against those who take sexual misconduct lightly in order to send the message that it is not acceptable.

“We need to focus on making verbal consent the norm,” Gheris said. “Consent is not ‘sexy.’ Consent is absolutely and irrevocably necessary.”

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