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Looking beyond assault numbers

BY REBECCA MORIN | MARCH 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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Because most sexual assaults occurring on a college campus go unreported, the recent rise in the number of reports at the University of Iowa does not mean the campus is “unsafe,” experts say.

“If an institution reports a higher number of sexual assaults, then it doesn’t necessarily mean the campus is unsafe,” said Mallory Gricoskie, a communication specialist with National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “A higher number of reports is a result of a campus breaking the silence.”

There have be eight reported sexual assaults and one reported attempted sexual assault to university officials during the academic year.

After protests were sparked following the rise in the number of reports of sexual assaults, as well as comments University of Iowa President Sally Mason made to The Daily Iowan, she introduced a six-point plan to help address concerns from students.

In fiscal 2013, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program received 45 UI related calls in regards to rape. In the first and second quarters of fiscal 2014, there have been 25 rape-related calls connected to the UI.

However, experts say many victims do not report sexual assaults.

“Campus sexual-assault statistics are grossly underreported, so few people report to begin with,” Gricoskie said. “Once you start facilitation, a sort of environment in which [victims] feel they are going to be heard, then for sure I think more people will report.”

Although 40 percent of the population report sexual assaults, only about 12 percent of college students report a sexual assault, said Scott Berkowitz, the president of Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.

Karla Miller, the executive director of Rape Victim Advocacy Program, said that although the university has received only eight reported assaults, there are calls received by victim-advocacy groups that are not reported to school officials.

“We as a society have to change the way we look at victims and how we support them, because they’re witnesses to the crime,” Miller said. “If they don’t serve as witnesses, then we don’t know if these things have happen, and who is served are perpetrators.”

Berkowitz said sometimes it is hard for students to report a sexual assault because of how the university handles the situation.

“It’s a hard decision,” he said. “There is no incentive to [report] unless it’s going to be taken seriously, and there is some sense of justice.”

About 90 percent of students who are sexually assaulted know their perpetrators. In the general population, 66 percent of victims are assaulted by an acquaintance, Berkowitz said.

He said this can contribute to hesitation about reporting an assault.

“On colleges and universities, a higher population [of sexual assaults] are not from a stranger,” Berkowtiz said. “There are greater fears of privacy among students. Often, they are afraid everyone is going to know about if they report, and that drives their reluctance.”

About 80 percent of college and university policies received a grade “C” or lower in a study conducted by Students Active for Ending Rape and V-Day, suggesting campus sexual assaults are not comprehensively addressed.

Berkowitz said he suggests students to report to law enforcement, rather than to university officials, because of how some universities handle cases.

“Most of the time, students are instructed to report to the university, but we encourage them to report to police enforcement because there is protection in place for the victim and the accused,” Berkowitz said. “Most university judicial systems judicate charges, like plagiarism. Rape is a violent crime, and we need to take rape as seriously as we do murder. The [university judicial system] just doesn’t fit the crime.”


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