Was the UI correct in refraining from wide notification of an alleged attempted sexual assault?


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Rape on campus should never be taken lightly. Every University of Iowa student deserves to feel safe and to know that UI police are doing the best they can to deal with every incident. Part of ensuring a safe environment is notifying UI students of likely threats to their safety. In the case of the March 26 attempted assault in a UI dorm room, that is exactly what police have been doing.

Following the reported attempted assault, the UI police fulfilled their duties and conducted an investigation. No HawkAlert was sent out, and the alleged assailant was arrested April 6 — at which point the alleged crime was made public. It appeared previously in a report of UI police activity on the department’s website.

The UI police follow the same standard with every incident. They notify the community immediately, unless the assailant is not deemed a threat to the university community or when disclosing that information would harm the investigation. The alleged assailant, in this case, was not deemed such a threat by people qualified to make that decision.

These standards are established for all campus security organizations on campuses receiving federal funding for student aid programs, and they are dictated by the Clery Act. With regard to this incident, the UI complied with the Clery Act.

It is, of course, important to notify members of the campus community of a sex offender at large. And if the offender poses a threat to the campus community, the police need to take steps to keep the public safe. But if such a notification is unnecessary or would harm the investigation, the police should not have to release the information while they are attempting to solve the crime.

With an issue as sensitive as sexual assault, in which even one incident is too many, it can be tempting to feel that authorities’ actions are never enough. After the fact, we always want to know more to be able to analyze the incident and make sure the police never make mistakes. In this situation, we should recognize that the university has plans in place to deal with incidents of sexual assault on campus. The UI police followed these provisions.

— Will Mattessich


Crime and threats are inevitable, and one of the duties of a university is to protect its students.
In its handling of the March 26 attempted rape, the University of Iowa may not have violated the letter of the Clery Act, but the spirit of notification was absent.

The purpose of the Clery Act is to alert people on campus to threats so that they can make informed choices, particularly about safety. Such threats include shooters, fire, and violent offenses; schools are not only required to report active threats in “a timely manner” (a very vague stipulation) but also to publicize a yearly list of all crimes.

The notification depends on the police’s analysis of whether a crime represents a larger threat. While the attempted assault was listed on the UI police website, spokesman Tom Moore said the circumstances did not warrant a warning to the larger population.

But why? If a rape on the Pentacrest — for which a HawkAlert was issued last October — warrants an alert, why not an attempted rape in a dorm? It’s true that the alleged attempted rapist, Rakeem Eberhart, is not a student at the UI. He likely knew the alleged victim. But there’s little concrete difference between an alleged rapist who grabs women on the Pentacrest and one who assaults them in their dorm rooms; as feminists have been saying for years, both exist on a continuum of boundary violations.

A notification would encourage people to take extra precautions. A HawkAlert informing people that a man had attempted to assault someone in her room could help people avoid any potential recurrences, perhaps encouraging greater scrutiny of guests (and if the alleged rapist had one acquaintance on campus, he likely had more).

We don’t have much information, because the investigation is still ongoing, but it’s difficult for me to believe that there’s no way UI police could have issued a warning without imperiling their pursuit of justice.

Eleven days between the alleged assault and an arrest is a long enough time for a serious potential harm. Even if the Clery Act was not strictly violated, some broader warning should have been given — even if necessarily vague.

— Shay O’Reilly

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