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Officials: Focus on preventing sexual abuse

BY DORA GROTE | DECEMBER 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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Focusing on preventing sexual assault trumps stricter mandatory-reporting policies, one state official said.

After an alleged sexual assault controversy broke at PennState University last month, Gov. Terry Branstad asked the State Board of Regents to review its sexual-assault policy during its meeting this week.

Stephen Scott, the head of the Iowa Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force, said tightening the University of Iowa and state mandatory reporters' law might not be the solution to solving sexual-assault cases.

Scott said colleges and high schools should enforce strict policies to prevent sexual assaults altogether.

"If facilities aren't open for use to coaches with a child or youth, that very easily stops [sexual assault] from happening," Scott said when referring to the Penn State sexual-assault scandal. "It wasn't so much the reporting, but it was the access given."

Regent Robert Downer said the review is necessary in light of the Penn State incident, though he wanted to review the laws before further commenting on specific changes.

Iowa Code states that mandatory reporters, including social workers, certified psychologists, licensed school employees, counselors or mental-health professionals, must report sexual misconduct "in the scope of professional practice or in their employment responsibilities."

"But if a teacher is out at Target and sees something happen, you aren't required to report it because it is not happening during your professional practice," Scott said.

He said policies should be enforced to restrict children from being alone with an adult on a college campus and making sure high schools do not let adults take unrelated children home without parental permission.

The UIoverhauled its sexual-misconduct policy two years ago after university leaders were heavily criticized for mishandling sexual abuse allegations between UIstudent-athletes. A third-party report found two administrators mishandled the case. The university fired those men shortly thereafter.

Monique DiCarlo — the UI's sexual-misconduct-response coordinator whose position was made full-time in the wake of the UI's 2008 alleged sexual assault — said the UI's mandatory reporter code does not concern minors.

According to the UI's Operational Manual, mandatory reporters, referred to as academic and administrative officers, include UI administrators from department heads to the university president.

The officers are required to report any kind of sexual misconduct to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity if it involves staff or faculty and DiCarlo if it involves students.

But DiCarlo said UI academic and administrative officers are not required to report sexual misconduct to law enforcement unless they are deemed necessary under the Clery Act.

DiCarlo said the security authorities are required to report the misconduct if the assailant is unknown.

University police then review the risk and decide whether a HawkAlert should be issued, but if authorities find out it was an acquaintance, the warning may not be issued.

"The greatest risk is an acquaintance, because they let your guard down," DiCarlo said.

DiCarlo said she could not specifically pinpoint what changes might occur to the sexual-assault policy, but often, reviews bring changes.

"This type of issue requires an ongoing commitment of education and policy," DiCarlo said. "It's something we should continue to collaborate with staff, faculty, students, and community members."

Scott said it's important for officials to go beyond their required duties to report incidents of misconduct.

"It's more of a moral failure than a legal failure," Scott said. "People do not go beyond their required duties."


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