Officials: Alcohol linked to sex assault

BY DANIEL SEIDL | MAY 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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The conversation on sexual assault at the University of Iowa is shifting to include alcohol.

“That’s a huge Venn diagram that we’re not really discussing,” said Susan Junis, the education director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. “We’ve put a lot of time, energy, and research into looking into alcohol and sexual assault.”

At a Wednesday meeting of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, Iowa City business owners along with city and university officials discussed the relationship between the two.

“Alcohol is often being used as a weapon,” Junis said. “We want to push that discussion.”

She noted that a majority of sexual assaults involve alcohol. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 30 percent of perpetrators are intoxicated.

Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., said the perception of underage drinking in the city makes these problems even more important to discuss.

“The young ones have the idea that it is easy, and it’s OK,” she said. “I think what it has done is it has given [them] the idea that Iowa City is a drinking town.”

As part of the meeting, there was a video shown with a perpetrator, “Frank,” explaining how he lured a woman using alcohol and sexually assaulted her.

Junis said this example shows why it is important to shift the blame away from victims.

“We know that Frank’s narrative is a common narrative,” she said. “When the focus is on the victim behavior, we let people like Frank off the hook.”

But Johnson County Public Health Director Doug Beardsley said in some cases, focusing on the perpetrator may not be effective.

“I don’t think you can sit Frank down and talk him out of it: Frank has a plan,” he said. “I don’t know how to prevent that.”

Junis said the focus in combating sexual assault should be general education and bystander intervention, rather than only focusing on risk reduction education.

“There is a place for risk reduction, but that shouldn’t be the whole of the conversation,” she said. “We know that when that’s the focus of education then it inhibits reporting. It also reduces help-seeking behavior.”

Chuck Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, said bystander intervention is not enough and risk reduction can’t be ignored.

“The message of risk reduction — we’re no longer doing any of that, and that’s my fear,” he said. “We can’t always rely on the kindness of strangers to protect our daughters and our young women.”

Currently, incoming UI students are required to watch a sexual-assault education video, but UI Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said alternatives are being considered.

“Entry is an easy time to make something mandatory; after that, it becomes difficult,” he said. “What we need to do is find more opportunities to accomplish that.”

George Etre, the owner of Formosa, 221 E. College St., and Takanami, 219 Iowa Ave., said he has noticed the need for education.

“The scariest thing I’ve noticed is the girls really drop their guard down around their peers,” he said. “That’s when they should keep their guard up. These perpetrators aren’t just wearing hoodies and hiding in the alleys.”

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