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Potential pitfalls of the 21-ordinance

BY SAMANTHA MILLER | MARCH 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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University of Iowa and Iowa City officials seem to place a great deal of weight on protecting women (or at least maintaining the appearance of it).

In my nearly four years of attending the UI, I remember the sexual assaults, sexual misconduct, groping, fondling, and so on making headlines every year — and the subsequent university and city reaction, inevitably vowing to do what they could to put a stop to these injustices.

When women were being groped walking home, the UI created Nite Ride, and there were undercover police stings to catch the culprits. When sexual misconduct was allegedly occurring in the classrooms, there was a university overhaul of ethics policy. And when sexual assault was allegedly happening in the residence halls, public scrutiny forced the university to be as vigilant as possible.

Yes, I’ll hand it to our local university and city officials: They sure do their best to accordingly react to such unfortunate circumstances. But therein lies the issue — these officials’ responses are reactionary. When it comes to preventative measures, well, it’s too late for the statistics of these crimes.

According to the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, there has been an increase in the number of rapes reported in Iowa City every year in the past five years. In 2009 alone, 79 people reported they had been raped.

As I’ve observed in my college career in Iowa City, the university and city have learned their lessons the hard way when it comes to preventing sexual crimes. But still, these are lessons learned, right?

So to my larger point — the recently resurrected 21-ordinance. Looking beyond the most obvious effects this measure would have, I hope the City Council, as well as the prominent UI officials who have voiced their approval of the ordinance, look ahead at what may be an unfortunate outcome of this passing — a change in the dynamic of sexual assaults.

Though university officials and councilors hope this action would curb underage and binge drinking if passed, it’s not a stretch to assume there would be at least some shift (if not a total shift, as Councilor Regenia Bailey predicted earlier this week) from drinking at bars to area house parties. I worry the preventative measures enforced by the university and city to account for the glut of heavy drinking and debauchery downtown won’t be available to help protect the individuals partaking in the glut of heavy drinking and debauchery at house parties.

Also, Nite Ride picks up females from downtown locations and drops them off at their homes. This service is not offered beyond its predetermined pickup points, so women couldn’t use this service to get home from house parties.

Karla Miller, the executive director of RVAP, also hopes that the city’s response to this change isn’t reactionary but preventative, suggesting the focus should be shifted with the context at which these assaults occur.

“The context is that Iowa City is known to be a party school,” she said. “Sometimes sexually aggressive people come there because of that.”

She noted that freshman girls who would be affected by the ordinance are particularly vulnerable when they first come to the university, and sexual predators are looking for someone available, vulnerable, and accessible to victimize. In addition, Miller said, the perpetrators of these crimes should be scrutinized and addressed, not the victims.

I agree with Miller and believe if area officials are going to support this ordinance, they need to take preventative steps to help address this problem once and if the dynamics of the issue change.

Expanding Nite Ride availability or increasing and dispersing police surveillance may be a step in the right direction, though not a solution. Miller agrees that policing the predators is a necessary measure to help curb the crimes.

In any case, I hope university officials and city councilors see the big picture. Changing the dynamic of drinking downtown could also change the dynamic of assault.


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