Protecting UI Students
She was on her way back to the safety of her room, thinking that her night was over. Unfortunately, in the early morning hours of October 3rd, 2010, a young woman walking home on the University of Iowa campus was walking through the Pentacrest and was sexually assaulted. According to her report of the incident, a hooded man approached her, forced her to the ground behind a tree, and had nonconsensual intercourse with her, despite her protests.
The rape raised public concern over the University’s policies about instances of sexual assault, and just how safe the campus is for students. According to the Rape Victim Advocacy Program of Iowa City, IA, the Five Year Statistical Comparison (fiscal year 07 through fiscal year 2011) states that the number of crisis calls known to be UI related calls (for rape, attempted rape, sexual assault/harassment, and other abuse) numbered 86 for the year 2007. The number of these crisis calls dipped to a low of 69 in 2009 and have reached a high of 88 calls so far this year.
In addition, the status of the victim being a UI Student (as opposed to UI Faculty/Staff or Unknown) has also reached a new five year high. In 2007, 86 UI students were victims of some form of sexual crime, 79 in 2008, 69 in 2009, 73 in 2010, and now a high of 88 in 2011. The victims’ ages for all five years were consistently highest for the 18-29 year old age group.
So what exactly are the UI’s policies and preventative measures in place to protect students from becoming part of these statistics?
Currently, the University’s Sexual Assault Policy and Programs is listed under the Department of Public Safety, Campus Security Act, Section F. It states that, “The University of Iowa prohibits sexual assault in any form…The University is committed to fostering a campus environment that both promotes and expedites prompt reporting of sexual assault and timely and fair adjudication of sexual assault cases.”
In 2007, the latter part of the policy was called into serious question in the aftermath of a high profile sexual assault case at the University that occurred on October 14th of that year in Hillcrest, a UI residence hall. Two football players had been accused and found guilty of sexually assaulting a freshman female athlete. UI President Sally Mason believed that had the school offered “better education and support to the victims of sexual abuse on its campus…[the] incident could have been avoided,” according to a Campus Safety news article from February of this year. The controversial handling of the case resulted in the firing of then general counsel Marcus Mills and dean of students, Phil Jones. A student can file a formal complaint about cases of sexual misconduct through contact with the UI Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator at (319) 335-6200.
As an ongoing effort to help prevent sexual assaults, there are 22 blue emergency “Code Blue” phone stations around campus. Each phone station is nine feet tall, and at the push of a button, UIPD officers are summoned within 60 seconds. In addition, the officers are able to hear what is going on, and a bright strobe light is activated at the top of the telephone station. Each station is strategically placed, many of which are in isolated or otherwise higher risk areas. Some of the phones are equipped with video cameras, which aid in the identification of attackers’ identities.
Another strategy to keep students safe is the use of Nite Ride, a means of safe transportation for women on and near the UI campus. Full time UI security guards operate a clearly marked mini bus that provides free transportation for women walking home. The academic route bus runs every Sunday through Thursday from 10pm- 3am, and is available on call only. This means that a woman will need to call (319) 384-1111, and the bus will pick her up at any UI academic building or parking lot/ramp. Nite Ride will not pick up from the residence halls and will not travel outside of its specific route boundaries. The downtown Nite Ride route runs the same hours as the academic route, except its pickup location is the intersection of Washington and Clinton St.
The boundaries of the Nite Ride, according to the to the UI department of Public Safety, “Stretch from Summit Street to the east, Hawkeye Park Road to the west, Highway 6 and Melrose to the south, and Highway 6/Foster Road to the north.”
When asked if he had any suggestions for improvement of either of these systems, University of Iowa Crime Prevention Officer Alton Poole said in an email, “Not at this time”. Officer Poole also corroborated answers to some commonly asked questions answered by Assistant Vice President and Director of Public Safety for the UI Department of Public Safety, Charles (Chuck) D. Green in a written interview. Green had been asked about the effectiveness of Nite Ride in decreasing cases of sexual assaults, rape, and harassment of women. He responded, “The only thing we can attest to is that women who choose to take advantage of Nite Ride are provided a safe ride at that moment; we can’t control what happens before or after which is why everyone (regardless of gender, location, age, etc.) should adopt various safety measures/practices to enhance their own personal safety.”
Encouraging students to “enhance their own personal safety” might be the most difficult part of sexual assault prevention. “I feel really safe on campus; probably safer than I should, actually,” comments Jennifer DeGeest, a UI Junior. If you or someone you know is involved in any form of sexual assault or harassment, the University of Iowa has very specific guidelines in handling the situation.
As outlined by the University Of Iowa Department Of Public Safety, the first step in reacting to a sexual assault is to call the police as soon as possible, so that an officer may be sent to your location to assist you. Even if you are unsure if have been assaulted, the policy highly recommends calling the police so that you can get the care and help that you need. After 911 has been called, it is important to preserve any evidence of the incident. It is highly recommended that, “If an assault occurred recently, do not change clothes, eat, drink, shower, or clean up in any way. All of these aspects are important for documentation.” It is especially important to seek help as soon as possible if there is any suspicion of the use of Rohypnol, “The Date Rape Drug”, because traces of the drug can leave the body in as little as a matter of hours after ingestion. The final step when reacting to a sexual assault is to “Seek prompt emergency medical care”. The preservation and documentation of evidence from the crime is crucial in building a solid, accurate case. Though going through these steps may feel upsetting or even embarrassing after such a traumatic incident, it is of the upmost importance that a victim acts quickly, so that he or she may get the medical attention that they need and that any evidence of the crime is preserved and documented for further investigation.
If you are the victim of any form of sexual assault, there are many resources you can turn to for medical assistance, guidance and support. The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (IowaCASA) has resources and informational links for a wide variety of sexual assault related topics, such as Victim Advocates, Professionals Assisting Victims of Sexual Assault, and general and legislative information about sexual assault. You can get immediate help from Iowa CASA at 1-800-284-7821, or contact their office at 515-244-7424. Women can also get in touch with the University of Iowa Women’s Resource and Action Center, which offer similar services. The University Counseling Service phone number is 319-335-3608.