UI Department of Public Safety reports increase in sexual offenses in 2021

Campus officials attribute the rise to the community reopening after COVID-19, but emphasized the report hike as an increase in reporting rather than the number of incidents.


Dimia Burrell

The outside of the University of Iowa Police station is seen in Iowa City on Monday, April 11, 2022.

Colin Votzmeyer, News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of sexual violence.

The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety reported an increase in sexual offense reports from 2020 to 2021 following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the UI’s 2022 Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy, Crime Statistics, and Fire Safety Annual Report, on-campus sex offenses increased from 46 in 2020 to 81 in 2021. Reports of on-campus rape increased from 25 to 54, and on-campus fondling increased from 21 to 27 reports.

Campus officials attribute the rise of incident reports to the Iowa City community’s reopening after the first three years of COVID-19.

Hayley Bruce, UI Department of Public Safety assistant director for communication and external relations, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that numbers do not mean the UI campus is less safe.

“Sexual assault is a very under-reported crime,” Bruce wrote. “We have worked hard to lower the barriers to reporting on campus, and we are committed to reducing this type of crime and creating a safe environment where victims feel comfortable coming forward to report these crimes to police.”

She added the UI can’t speculate on one specific factor behind the increase.

“However, as people returned to campus after the COVID-19 pandemic and had access to resources, reports may have increased related to harm experienced earlier,” she said.

According to Statista, the number of reported forcible rape cases in the U.S. fell from 143,224 in 2019 to 139,500 in 2020 and rose to 144,300 by 2021.

She wrote that COVID-19 lockdowns probably worsened these factors. Discussions between the UI and Johnson County law enforcement revealed that interpersonal behavior was strained during the height of the pandemic, she added.

RELATED: UIHC reports increased number of aggravated assaults in 2021

UI Rape Victim Advocacy Program Executive Director Adam Robinson said sexual violence typically rises in the fall semester because of students’ lack of familiarity with their surroundings, but the reopening after the pandemic is the biggest factor in the recent increase.

“We have seen disclosures, both with regards to those socially interactive events being more frequent again and also with folks who maybe couldn’t have asked for help or disclosed the violence they were surviving while in lockdown,” Robinson said.

He said an increase in reports does not mean there are more or fewer sexual assaults, but that the Rape Victim Advocacy Program is receiving vulnerability from the campus community.

The Rape Victim Advocacy Program provides free and confidential resources for people who are affected by sexual violence as well as prevention education.

“Our primary goal is to prevent these types of crimes from happening in the first place. Until we meet that goal, we also want to make sure that anytime it’s experienced, anytime anyone is sexually assaulted, they are as free as possible to come forward and disclose and seek support,” Robinson said.

Robinson said the 54 rape disclosures in 2021 are still low for how big the UI’s campus community is.

The number of reported rapes and fondlings at the UI is higher than other state schools in the midwest with larger student populations.

The UI had a total enrollment of 31,206 in the fall 2021 semester, according to a university report, compared to 35,474 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 36,209 at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and 19,552 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison police reported 19 rapes and three fondlings on campus in 2021.
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities police reported 40 rapes and 10 fondlings on campus in 2021.
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln police reported 44 rapes and one fondling on campus in 2021.

Robinson said the university has started various initiatives to combat the prevalence of offenses and increase the number of disclosures.

The initiatives include informing the community on how to prevent sexual offenses, communicating with other departments across campus, reducing barriers to reporting incidents, and creating identity-aligned workshops, an artistic expression support group, and medical accompaniment services.

“[We’re] just trying to do different things to respond to and also try to prevent the occurrences of sexual violence,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to prevent the disclosures. If someone’s experienced violence, we want them to feel free to disclose.”

At the Nov. 9 state Board of Regents meeting, Iowa State University Chief of Police Michael Newton said reports of sexual assault, rape, and fondling increased at ISU because more people felt comfortable reporting these incidents, but he knows some go unreported.

“[It’s] still a very underreported crime,” Newton said. “We know there’s more sexual assaults there happening than are reported on our campuses, and that’s nationally that we see that.”

Mark Bullock, UI Department of Public Safety assistant vice president and director, said at the meeting that the numbers as of Nov. 7 are down to 10 reported rapes on campus in contrast to 47 in 2021.

“The good thing is when we look at our numbers now, our numbers now are remarkably different than what they were in 2021,” Bullock said. “There’s obviously time for more reporting to occur, and we collect the reports for quite some time, but it’s certainly trending in a good direction.