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Editorial: New sexual-assault guidelines deserve praise

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Last week, we said the University of Iowa could do more to combat sexual assault. This week, it did.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason addressed university faculty, staff, and students in an email Thursday regarding the creation of new sanctioning guidelines for cases of sexual assault.

Citing her six-point plan to combat sexual assault released in February, Mason states, “I promised that we would crack down on offenders, including making use of the most severe sanction that the university can impose, which is expulsion.” She then goes on to note that the university has expelled two students for sexual assault, one in the spring semester and one during the summer session. The Daily Iowan Editorial board believes these new explicit sanctioning guidelines for one of the UI’s most prevalent issues are an excellent step in the right direction, so long as they are implemented and enforced.

Since the beginning of the academic year, there have been three reported cases of sexual assault. Mason noted this in her email. How the university deals with these cases will show the Iowa City community just how severe the punishments for committing sexual assault will be.

This recent email showed an obvious change of rhetoric since Mason was quoted in February saying, “These are not the kinds of things we want to have happen, obviously, but they do happen.” Instead, Mason said on Thursday, “We take sexual assaults very seriously. There is no excuse for this crime. It has no place on this campus. We must continue to address this problem, and we must not rest until it is eliminated entirely.”

This is a necessary change. Showing the public that these acts are intolerable and will be severely punished will be a key change to such a systematic problem.

The sanctioning guidelines for sexual assault also provide a change in overall rhetoric about the matter. These guidelines not only outline the specific punishments for each type of sexual misconduct but also exactly what constitutes each act. Pairing the definition of each action with an explicitly stated punishment removes any ambiguity.

Mason has clearly taken criticisms about the university’s sexual assault policies into consideration. One major early criticism of UI’s warning emails in cases of reported sexual assault was that the language focused too much on the victims’ responsibility to avoid sexual assault rather than the perpetrators’ responsibility to not commit sexual assault. Such a lens does nothing to attack the issue at its roots, which ultimately lie within the larger cultural system.

Now, however, warning emails include the phrase, “the only person responsible for sexual misconduct is the perpetrator,” right after information regarding the assault is provided. 

As the UI president, Mason is trying to create a culture that no longer accepts sexual assault as a part of the norm. The Board believes Mason’s newfound doggedness in fighting sexual assault, as evidenced by the harsh punishments outlined in the sanctioning guidelines and her stark change in language surrounding this issue, can and will trickle into the Iowa City community as a whole. The only stipulation surrounding this is whether or not the university strictly enforces and adheres to the guidelines outlined in the recent announcement. How these recent three cases are treated should provide a good indication of the university’s intent.


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