UI eyes stalking policy

BY HOLLY HINES | JULY 24, 2009 7:15 AM

A new policy may be needed to address stalking cases at the UI, said Monique DiCarlo, the university sexual-misconduct-response coordinator.

The UI deals with reports of this behavior under the auspices of other policies, such as harassment and discrimination or sexual misconduct. Iowa law defines stalking as repeated actions that cause fear of bodily harm or death.

DiCarlo — the go-to person for UI students with stalking complaints — said existing regulations may already be enough.

In the next three months, however, she said she plans to look into a national policy model that specifically addresses stalking.

This national regulatory example is part of an optional program presented early this year by the National Stalking Resource Center and the Federal Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women.

At the UI, stalking is never directly referenced in the online overview of its policies. This differs from other universities, such as the University of Illinois, where stalking is mentioned online in the student code as a behavior for which “students are subject to discipline.”

Karla Miller, the executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, believes the UI would benefit from a more specific policy.

Focusing on stalking could draw attention to sexual crimes before they worsen, she said.

Miller said seven cases of stalking were reported to the Rape Victim Advocacy Program during fiscal 2008. In the same year, the organization received reports of 266 rape cases and 67 incidents of dating and domestic violence.

However, these numbers misrepresent the scope of local stalking occurrences, Miller said.

Victims often fail to report associated behaviors — such as blackmailing or showering the victim with unwanted gifts — before a more urgent crime enters the situation.

“When somebody’s stalking someone, there’s always the possibility that he or she will do more,” she said.

A specific, clearly worded policy could also potentially benefit the university if sexual-assault lawsuits arise. Earlier this month, lawyers from several Big Ten universities — not including the UI — met to discuss whether schools can be reprimanded for failing to prevent incidents.

David Visin, an associate director of the UI police, believed addressing single behaviors before they escalate to stalking may prevent more harmful circumstances.

Taking action at the first sign of harassment can prevent a pattern from forming, he said, and, “If we get involved early, we can stop it.”

However, when cases do arise, the victim makes the ultimate decision about moving forward.

UI police officials address cases according to victim preferences, said Brian Meyer, a UI police public-safety patrol officer. Officials can assess the threat of alleged offenders by determining if they’re permitted to own firearms, for example.

Sending a letter of warning to perpetrators often works to dispel the situation, Meyer said.

In cases of “cyberstalking,” officers often work with UI Information Technology Services to track down e-mails and messages, he said.

The Internet can also help students with concerns.

The UI said a “Safety and Respect” link on its the homepage, a step Miller praised.

“Now, you don’t have to search around or wonder which office deals with what,” she said.

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