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Violence wave stuns city

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | APRIL 16, 2009 7:34 AM

Violence against men
on the rise


The Daily Iowan provides a closer look at the issue of male-on-male violence in Iowa City.

Part 1: Issue overview — A look into how attacks downtown have changed.

Part 2: Police tactics — What police are doing to prevent and respond to the assaults.

Part 3: Role of the UI — What UI officials are saying about the violence.

UI administrators acknowledge the recent wave of assaults involving men in downtown Iowa City but say the university’s primary focus continues to be violence against women and the over-consumption of alcohol among students.

Though the school has taken an active role in spreading awareness about sexual assaults against women in the past, university officials said, they have no plans to address male-on-male violence specifically. But the UI police are working closely with the Iowa City police to increase patrolling downtown during weekend nights.

The UI, Iowa City, and police officials agree the problem requires a multifaceted approach.

“It’s one thing for me, or the provost, or any individual member of the community to reach out to individuals who have been affected adversely by this,” UI President Sally Mason recently told The Daily Iowan. “It’s another thing when the whole community comes together and says, ‘You’re right, this is important.’ ”

When law student Cody Kiroff was brutally beaten in September 2008 — leaving him with injuries affecting him to this day — Mason personally met with the Charles City native, who said he was pleased with the university’s reactions.

Steps were taken to help Kiroff, Thomas Rocklin, the UI interim vice president for Student Services, told The Daily Iowan on Oct. 20, 2008, though those steps haven’t been repeated because no recent victim has contacted the university.

In the wake of the attack on Kiroff, which remains unsolved, part of the UI’s response involved placing a paid advertisement in the DI, asking for the public to come forward with information.

In the Oct. 20, 2008 article, Rocklin said officials may run more advertisements following any other attacks. But despite a recent string of assaults involving men, no advertisements have appeared in the DI.

Though Rocklin could not be reached for comment because of a family emergency, Thomas Baker, the UI associate dean of students, said Kiroff’s situation was unique because the perpetrator hadn’t been caught and authorities were asking for the public’s help.

The UI police, which originally requested the advertisement, have not asked the university to run another one. If police asked the university for help again, Baker said, the school would oblige.

Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay said the reason the UI ran the ad is exactly the situation officers are facing: Perpetrators are not being caught, and police need the public’s help.

Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, said his department requested the advertisement last semester after an outcry from parents.

“At that time, it was new and fresh, this idea that young men were being attacked downtown,” he said. “We thought it was appropriate to address the barrage of concern at that time.”

Baker said the UI officials could take disciplinary action if they find out an attacker is a student. But the suspects may not be students, and most perpetrators are not caught.

“We prefer prevention,” he said.

Prevention, university officials agreed, means a focus on eliminating binge drinking among students.

“Ultimately, one of the things we are trying to change is to eliminate not only the heavy drinking but to eliminate violent incidents,” Baker said.

Officials noted UI police have sent out a number of releases to students regarding off-campus safety in the last year. While many of these newsletters have placed a focus on safety for women, UI police distributed an e-mail in November 2008 addressing attacks on males downtown, Green said, and it included safety tips that are applicable to everyone.

Baker said the UI is taking male-on-male violence seriously: “It doesn’t matter who the victim is. Violence will not be tolerated.”

But he conceded the UI’s primary concern has been with violence against women.

In response to a wave of attacks on women on campus and in downtown and the surrounding area beginning in the fall of 2007, UI police instituted Nite Ride — a service that gives females a free ride home from downtown and UI buildings. Officials also started numerous informational campaigns regarding sexual harassment.

No similar programs exist to raise awareness about assaults on men, and school officials said they have no plans to institute one.

But, officials say, the problem may be out of the university’s control: No assault has happened on campus, and ultimately, it is up to students to make their own decisions.

“We blanket incoming students with information,” Baker said, and university officials attempt to address bystander culture. “But the key is when the moment occurs, when someone witnesses something, individuals need to do the right thing. We can’t do it for them.”

Some people have asked why the UI police do not open Nite Ride to men, given the recent violence — especially because many other universities provide services for both sexes. Green said the UI police has no plans to create a van for men because of issues involving liability and safety for women.

“A remedy that addresses one type of crime may not be a remedy for another type,” he said.
UI freshman Amy Tiffany said she may be less likely to use Nite Ride if men were allowed in the vans.

Outgoing UI Student Government President Maison Bleam said representatives spent a large part of last semester trying to open Nite Ride to men. Upon realizing it wasn’t feasible, UISG began working to launch a SafeRide bus service to residential neighborhoods, which, if officially approved, could launch next fall.

The Iowa City City Council plans to hold a work session addressing the issue of male-on-male violence, and there may be a public meeting, said Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey. Those sessions have not yet been scheduled.

While city and UI officials could not cite specific ways to mitigate the violence, they agreed it’s a problem that must be addressed.

“This is a community problem,” Kelsay said. “And it is a big deal.”


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