More than one in five UI female undergraduates report being raped

Photo by Adam Burke
Photo by Adam Burke

21 percent of undergraduate female students responding to a University of Iowa survey reported being raped during their time at the university, according to a report released Wednesday.

More than 11 percent of first-year female undergraduates reported being raped during their first semester, supporting national research that the first year on campus is a time of increased risk for sexual assault. Reported rapes could have occurred on or off campus or during breaks.

These results came from the Speak Out Iowa survey, which was conducted in the fall of last year and looked at sexual violence, harassment, dating violence and stalking on campus. The survey was open to all students and responses were anonymous. Over 2,600 students completed the survey, which was a low response rate on a campus with nearly 29,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

During a Wednesday afternoon briefing about the survey and the university’s two-year plan to address sexual violence on campus, University of Iowa Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin and other university representatives repeatedly said there is no place for these actions on campus.

“I don’t think sexual assault is something you benchmark. The only acceptable number is zero,” Rocklin said.

The survey raised some key issues, including individuals experiencing repeated assaults, few individuals seeking formal support through a counselor, victim advocate or university official and concerns about the role alcohol plays in sexually violent incidents.

Attendees at the briefing questioned why the survey presented gender in a binary way, based upon the respondent’s sex at birth, which university officials said was due to the small number of students identifying as LGBTQ who responded to the survey and fears that breaking out that information would reveal the identity of those students.

National research has shown transgender students are especially vulnerable to sexual violence. In a survey by the Association of American Universities, one in four transgender students reported experiencing sexual assault since enrolling in college. The survey also found high rates of sexual assault among gay and lesbian undergraduates.

Survey questions that were seen as victim blaming were also called out as attendees raised concerns that students who had experience sexual violence, dating violence or stalking might have had their memories of those events triggered by the survey itself and decided not to respond.

University officials warned that the there are limitations to keep in mind when looking at the survey results. The low response rate means the results may not be representative of all University of Iowa students. Also, nearly three-quarters of the respondents were female but they make up just over half, 52 percent, of the student population. It is also not known whether respondents were more or less likely than students who didn’t respond to the survey to experience sexual misconduct.

The survey results were originally supposed to be released in the spring, but officials said that because of the low response rate, they needed more time to analyze the results. The university had tried to increase participation, including extending the deadline for students to complete the survey, but those efforts fell short.

University of Iowa Anti-Violence Plan

The university developed a two-year plan based on the results of the survey. The plan follows a previous Six Point Plan to Combat Sexual Assault developed in 2014 under then-University of Iowa President Sally Mason.

The new plan is centered around three areas: prevention and education, intervention and policy.

Some listed plans to expand prevention and education efforts on campus include developing a refresher online course on sexual misconduct to follow-up on the existing required Success at Iowa course, working to raise awareness about issues of dating violence and stalking and spreading information about getting help and reporting incidents.

The plan also highlights a need to make intervention efforts more inclusive and considerate of those impacted by sexual misconduct, dating violence and stalking. One of the listed steps is increased training for those responding to a disclosure in order to encourage people to report. The plan also lists expanding resources for survivors, those accused of sexual misconduct and for those found responsible of a policy violation, with the goal of preventing reoccurring offenses.

Policy-centered efforts have a stated goal of making sure policies are clear and fair, and that they hold offenders accountable. Some of the listed steps include streamlining existing policies and gathering more campus feedback to aid in the review and revision of policies.

The full plan is available online.

Where to get help:

The Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) advises that anyone in immediate danger call 911 if possible.

RVAP’s 24-hour local crisis line: (319) 335-6000 or (800) 228-1625

24-hour Iowa Sexual Abuse hotline: (800) 284-7821

Online chats:
ARCh (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Love is Respect (24-hour)
National Sexual Assault Online Hotline (24-hour)

The University of Iowa’s Speak Out Iowa website also lists resources for reporting a problem and getting help.

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