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UI works on sexual assaults

BY CARLY MATTHEW | MARCH 03, 2015 5:00 AM

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From increasing funding for prevention education to adding a second Nite Ride shuttle, perceivable changes have been made in efforts to decrease the number of sexual assaults on campus.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason introduced her six-point plan to combat sexual assault after making controversial comments regarding sexual assault in February 2014.

The plan added roughly $150,000 per year in recurring funding across a number of programs and efforts, Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said.

“I think we’ve made really substantial strides in building a kind of system that will encourage people to report when they are victimized and support them and also hold perpetrators accountable,” he said.

One of the biggest changes was the expansion of prevention education.

Before the implementation of the six-point plan, two people worked in prevention education on campus: one half-time position at the Women’s Resource and Action Center and one half-time position in the Rape Victim Advocacy Program.

Both of these positions are now full-time, and the university hired a third full-time prevention educator.

“It’s enabling us to really increase both the quality of the prevention work that we’re doing, so it really is effective and, of course, the quantity,” WRAC Director Linda Stewart Kroon said.

She said a larger staff enabled WRAC and RVAP to reach out to approximately 10,000 students per year through in-person workshops and presentations as well as beginning a training program for student peer leaders.

Stewart Kroon said before last year, the organizations were only able to reach around 4,000 students per year.

Better recognition of sexual assault — and not more occurrences — have led to larger numbers of students reporting sexual assaults to WRAC and RVAP, she said.

“There’s just a much broader understanding now, I think, and attention among the student body that I don’t remember seeing in the past, and that helps survivors,” she said. “I take it as a really positive sign that people are feeling safe to come forward, that they trust they will be treated well, and that word is getting out that there is help available.”

RVAP Executive Director Jennifer Carlson said that so far in fiscal 2015, 75 UI students came to RVAP, a university department that also serves the community, or WRAC seeking advocacy services.

Some options RVAP provides to students are providing hospital trips to receive forensic medical exams, helping victims reporting sexual assault to law enforcement, working in the criminal-justice system, and helping identify campus resources.

Not all 75 reports were necessarily recent sexual assaults or assaults that occurred on campus, Carlson said.

She said there has been a 79 percent increase in the number of people, including community members and students, seeking out this type of advocacy through RVAP over the last fiscal year.

Aside from education efforts, one of the major points of the six-point plan was improved communication, leading to the creation of the Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

Committee member and UI junior Mary Heer said the first meeting was in April 2014, and the group is now in full swing.

“Our charge is having more transparency between the student body and President Mason and then the next president,” Heer said.

Last semester, the group worked on a White House-based campaign called It’s On Us with the UI Student Government. She said it helped students to change the way they think about sexual assault.

“We probably reached 1,000 to 1,500 students during our Pentacrest campaign alone,” UISG President Patrick Bartoski said.

Rocklin said he felt the next big step in the six-point plan would be a campus-climate survey to gauge student awareness of campus resources and determine how frequently they are victimized.

He said the UI Antiviolence Coalition would most like administer it sometime this fall.

The Sexual Advisory Committee is conducting listening sessions with marginalized student groups on campus to ensure ideas from a diverse group of students are heard, Heer said.

“It’s important for us to increase the scope of whom we’re talking to and what answers we’re getting,” she said.


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