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Mason: Increase in sexual assault reports is "unacceptable"

BY AARON WALKER | OCTOBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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Despite the rise in reported sexual assaults this academic semester, University of Iowa President Sally Mason said that number doesn’t necessarily imply an increase in assaults year-over-year.

“My sense is that survivors feel more comfortable telling us now. That doesn’t make it less challenging or less traumatic,” Mason said during a media availability on Wednesday. “I don’t believe that this indicates it’s happening more often, I think we’re finally learning about it, and I think that’s important.”

Mason’s comments come in the wake of the seventh report of sexual assault this fall, which came on Monday. Twelve incidents were reported during the last academic year. If the rate of incidents continues at this pace, the UI community could see a significant increase over last year. An act of sexual misconduct was reported to UI officials on Tuesday after a student was sexually fondled by an unknown male in downtown Iowa City.

Mason maintains that the implementation of the university’s new six-point plan as well as additional funding — announced on Monday — could be the reason more students feel comfortable with reporting instances of sexual assault.

“To me what [is] really making a huge difference [are] the activities of our students,” Mason said. “Our students have really grabbed hold of this issue as one that they wish to be involved with and help own.”

Students have organized a number of protests in regard to the UI’s policies regarding their handling of sexual assault reports and the preventative measures in place.

Mason said the most recent incident reported Monday was “absolutely unacceptable.”

“We have a lot of work to do, obviously, to make sure that this behavior stops on our campus and in our community,” she said.

Mason said she wants to be as proactive as possible to eliminate these occurrences.

Following the most recent reporting, Mason promised two full-time positions in the Women’s Resource and Action Center.

WRAC Director Linda Stewart Kroon said she it was a positive step to promoting reporting of assaults.

“I think it’s going to continue to make the conversation easier to have and that will encourage the people who need help to seek it out,” Kroon said. “We’re feeling very optimistic [and] think things are moving in a very positive direction on our campus.”

Because there is no way of knowing how many cases go unreported, Kroon said that all community members can do is discuss the total incidents they’re aware of.

“It’s a good thing that we know more people are coming forward,” Kroon said.

The third position created in Mason’s most recent addition to her six-point-plan is a full time prevention job with the Rape Victim Advocacy Program.

RVAP Director Jennifer Carlson said historically the numbers reported are not representative of the true number of occurrences.

“That belief [people] have that more reports mean more violence is a misperception,” Carlson said.

She said the goal of the primary prevention position is to create an environment that is more supportive and feels safer for survivors to come forward and ask for assistance.

“We do believe the numbers are indicative of student’s willingness to come forward,” Carlson said. “Not necessarily a rise in the crime itself.”


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