UI officials working to mitigate annual uptick in sexual misconduct

In response to the national yearly uptick in sexual misconduct at the beginning of the academic year, three UI offices are working together to combat this issue.


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The Old Capitol is shown on Monday, July 25, 2016.

Becca Turnis, News Reporter

The number of sexual-misconduct reports generally increase at the start of academic years, so the University of Iowa campus has numerous resources for people to reach out to for help.

Complaints of sexual misconduct rise on college campuses all over the country at the start of the academic year, according to the UI Office of Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator website. The UI shows this same uptick from August to November, the website said.

“I have some hypotheses, but I would say there’s not really clear research that indicates why the beginning of the academic year is the prime time,” said Martha Pierce, the assistant director and violence-prevention coordinator at the Women’s Resource & Action Center. “It’s a very clearly documented trend, nationally, at college campuses everywhere.”

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Pierce believes part of the seasonal uptick in cases is due to incoming students’ lack of knowledge and vulnerability.

Data from the Sexual-Misconduct Office’s 2017 report show that in the second semester, the lowest number of reports the office received was 28 in January and the highest was 44 in May.

Through the months of August to December, the number of reports ranged from a low of 34 to a high of 66 in October.

“I think a lot of it has to do with incoming students being more vulnerable, not knowing what their rights are, what appropriate expectations are for sexual encounters, and for perpetrators who interested in committing sexual violence, [and] being aware of that fact and taking advantage of the newness of new students,” Pierce said.

She also thinks that teenagers’ education about consent and appropriate behaviors is lacking, and that is partly to blame.

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UI Student Government President Hira Mustafa told The Daily Iowan in June that the organization is focused on implementing the Anti-Violence Plan, and UISG members will also pursue their own initiatives and plans.

“UISG is looking at the response from the university for different cases, and how we can be more transparent about the process, and trying to get people to understand the number of resources there are, and looking at what those specific resources offer,” she said.

WRAC is one main resource students can go to in order to deal with misconduct. The others include the Rape Victim Advocacy Program and the Sexual-Misconduct Office.

The office receives a vast number of reports, but most don’t result in an investigation, said Monique DiCarlo, the UI coordinator for sexual-misconduct response and Title IX.

According to the office’s 2017 annual report, of the 444 reports of misconduct in 2017, only 58 investigations occurred.

There are many reasons for this, DiCarlo said, including cases of the accused not being affiliated with the UI and not being under the office’s jurisdiction. There also might be a lack of information in the report, she said, rendering the university unable to properly investigate.

The UI police 2017 report shows 41 incidents of rape, 35 incidents of fondling, 32  incidents of domestic violence, 22 incidents of dating violence, and 99 incidents of stalking.

The Sexual-Misconduct Office reports do not reflect Clery Act crime statistics nor adjudicated outcomes. The office also receives reports pertaining to incidents that happened off campus or before a person came to the UI, not only while a person is affiliated with the UI. The UI police report reflects Clery crime statistics.

Even if the office is unable to do anything, DiCarlo said, officials can refer survivors to RVAP and the WRAC.

All three offices are committed to preventing the crimes from occurring and working with survivors to get them the help they need, Pierce said.

DiCarlo said officials have made a commitment to work in a multidiscipline way through the Anti-Violence Coalition, which she noted meets monthly to work on strategic initiatives that are identified in the UI Anti-Violence Plan.

“There are priorities for prevention work, how can we strengthen the ways we intervene and help people who have been harmed, and there are strategies for revising our policies,” she said.