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University of Iowa alerts students of sexual assault on first day

Victim reports non-consensual contact in residence hall

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As classes for the fall semester commenced Monday, the University of Iowa sent out its first campuswide warning of a student reporting a sexual assault.

The female student told UI officials that she was the victim of non-consensual sexual contact by an acquaintance late Friday in a residence hall, according to the warning that went out Monday to the student body.

No further details were provided.

The issue of sexual violence became a hot topic on the UI campus during the last academic year following an increase in warning emails such as the one delivered on the first day of classes Monday. Students in the spring protested over concerns with the university’s handling of sexual violence on campus and demanded — among other things — that officials crack down on offenders, provide better support for victims, and change the wording in warning emails.

In response, UI President Sally Mason held a “listening post” and rolled out a six-point plan on ways the UI would step up its fight against sexual misconduct. The plan includes taking a stronger stance against offenders, increasing resources for victims, improving prevention and education, bettering communication, adding funding for programs addressing the issue, and listening more and reporting back to the community.

Mason has reported progress in those areas, including funding a second Nite Ride van for safe late-night transportation for women, forming a student advisory group, revamping the language in the warning emails, and making changes to its new freshmen training programs.

The UI also expelled a student in the spring for sexual misconduct — the first expulsion for such behavior in recent university history. Before last semester’s expulsion, the university had issued indefinite and five-year suspensions that equated to expulsion, according to Tom Rocklin, UI vice president for student life.

In the calendar years 2011, 2012, and 2013, 21 students were suspended, including 11 for sexual misconduct or domestic violence, according to UI Dean of Students David Grady. Four of those sexual misconduct cases were indefinite suspensions, four were five-year suspensions, and three were one- to three-year suspensions, although none of the 11 students returned to the university, Grady has said.

In the warning email sent Monday, which included new language following last semester’s protests, UI officials state that “the only person responsible for sexual misconduct is the perpetrator.”

“It is a violation of university policy to engage in sexual activities without affirmative consent from your partner,” according to the warning. “Someone incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs cannot consent to sexual activity.”

The warning goes on to say that any university student or employee found in violation of sexual misconduct policies can be expelled or terminated, and it encourages victims to seek medical attention immediately, “even if there are no obvious physical injuries.”

“An examination does not obligate someone to any kind of investigation,” according to the warning. “However, it allows evidence to be collected and preserved in the event you choose to authorize a criminal investigation at a later time.”

University officials in the warning emails advise students to “trust your instincts and attempt to interrupt the chain of events” if they feel uneasy about a situation. Much of the university’s new training centers around bystander intervention, which asks students to watch for warning signs of sexual misconduct and intervene before it happens.

“Being an active bystander doesn’t require you put yourself at risk,” according to the warning.

UI officials reported in the spring that the number of student sexual assault reports — identified as anything from forced intercourse to non-consensual touching in alignment with the UI Sexual Misconduct Policy — has been on the rise.

UI students made 33 reports in 2011, 40 reports in 2012, and 45 reports in 2013, according to Monique DiCarlo, UI sexual misconduct response coordinator.

Nationally, it’s estimated that 20 percent of women and 6 percent of men experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault while in college. The most common type of sexual assault is that committed by someone known to the victim, such as a date or acquaintance, UI officials report.

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