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Last week's reported sexual assault the fifth on campus since fall 2010

BY BETH BRATSOS | JANUARY 23, 2012 7:20 AM

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Some University of Iowa students said they are worried about campus safety after another reported sexual assault on campus, the fifth since fall 2010.

According to an Iowa City police press release, a female UI student who lives off campus was assaulted between midnight and 2 a.m. on Jan. 20 near the Becker Communication Studies Building or the Communications Center.

UI senior Ellyn Vranicar said the incident is frightening.

"There's Nite Ride. A lot of people don't take advantage of it," she said. "It's surprising that it was on campus, where usually there's a ton of people.

UI junior Erica Sturwold said she agreed.

"I go to the library all the time, and as a journalism student, it scares me. It's a dark area, and sometimes I run from the J-School to my car," she said. "Now that it's cold out and people aren't out and about, it would be harder to get someone's attention or call for help."

She said she was also surprised she didn't get a HawkAlert about the incident.

UI Student Government President Elliot Higgins said his group works with the UI Purchasing Department to roll out a program that would allow students free cab rides this spring.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority this year," he said.

Iowa City police Lt. Bill Campbell said the city police handed over the case to UI police after the initial investigation indicated the incident happened on university property. UI police declined to comment on the incident.

In light of the recent incidents, the university has clarified its sexual-assault policy, received grants to improve the school's responses to sexual misconduct on campus, and implemented a number of programs aimed at reducing sexual assaults.

"[The policy] was revised in order to assure we were responding appropriately and to ensure that victims are receiving support and access to resources they require," UI spokesman Tom Moore said. "The main thing was to clarify the process, to ensure everyone on campus was educated and aware of how to handle these instances."

Iowa City police Sgt. Dave Droll said Iowa City officers pass near Becker several times per night.

"Madison is a city street usually used as a thoroughfare," he said. "Officers come and go."

An officer's location at a given time is usually in relation to a specific call for service, he said, although there are routine cars that patrol designated areas.

"You certainly have the right to walk by yourself; you have to make your own choice," Droll said. "Don't sit and talk on your cell phone and be aware of your surroundings obviously after dark."

The numbers of reported sexual assaults do not seem to trend by season or weather, said Rape Victim Advocacy Program services coordinator Karen Siler. However, she described research indicating sexual assaults may occur more often when school first starts.

"The first few weeks of school tend to be more dangerous for college female students because the college experience tends to be more new," she said.

The Rape Victim Advocacy Program has also looked for trends that may develop new safety procedures. For example, she said, there were a lot of street assaults happening in recent years and the "Whistle Safe" program was implemented. Whistles and a "risk reduction safety planning" brochures were provided to students on campus.

"It isn't always a situation where there are witnesses of an actual sexual assault occurring," said Siler. "I will say our community does a good job of looking for ways to prosecute crime."


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