UI sexual misconduct response coordinator, deputy title IX coordinator Monique DiCarlo speaks during a Speak Out Iowa Survey key findings report about sexual violence on Wednesday, September 21, 2016. The findings were based on a survey of students over a seven week period. (The Daily Iowan/Joseph Cress)
UI sexual misconduct response coordinator, deputy title IX coordinator Monique DiCarlo speaks during a Speak Out Iowa Survey key findings report about sexual violence on Wednesday, September 21, 2016. The findings were based on a survey of students over a seven week period. (The Daily Iowan/Joseph Cress)

UI ahead of the sex-assault curve

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By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

Recent federal campus-safety moves would have little effect on the University of Iowa’s policies, because many proposed changes are already in place.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, recently announced his involvement in a move to renew the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, designed to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

“The campus sexual-assault legislation was based on feedback directly from survivors of sexual assault — these are things they asked for to make a difference,” a prepared statement from Grassley’s office said on April 12. “It’s more than about reporting. It’s also about real support for survivors.”

The bill’s requirements are largely aimed at streamlining and standardizing the way sexual assault is dealt with at U.S. universities.

Many of the policies outlined in the bill are being practiced at the UI, such as the requirement that schools establish cooperative working relationships with local law enforcement.

“The UI has strong relationships in place with the Johnson County Sexual Assault Team, the Johnson County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa City Police Department, and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office,” said UI Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator Monique DiCarlo in an email to The Daily Iowan.

DiCarlo said the County Attorney’s Office and the Iowa City police also participate in the UI Antiviolence Coalition, which helps coordinate efforts to prevent and intervene in sexual misconduct.

Together, the members of the coalition provide on-campus resources, support services, and training requirements such as those called for by the bill.

The bill would also impose transparency requirements, including the institution of a biennial survey of sexual assaults on U.S. campuses, the results of which would be made public.

“The transparency aspect of the survey as called for in the legislation will encourage colleges to take it seriously,” said the statement provided by Grassley’s office.

The UI began conducting its own survey, the Speak Out Iowa campus climate survey, in 2015, which it plans to administer again this fall.

DiCarlo said sharing survey results and outcomes related to sexual-misconduct investigations can build understanding of and trust in campus policies.

“It will be important to educate the public that high numbers of reports may not mean that sexual assault is occurring more often on a campus, but rather that a campus has strong infrastructure in place to encourage reporting,” she said.

But while transparency and proper response procedures like those in the Campus Accountability and Safety Act are well-meaning and allow the university to be upfront about campus situations, Rape Victim Advocacy Program Executive Director Adam Robinson said they can have unintended consequences for the victim.

“The part where it gets a little bit complicated is with that confidentially piece,” he said. “We don’t want to cast a shadow on any of the assault that’s happening, but we also want to honor the vulnerability that it takes to come forward.”

Robinson said sexual violence may go undisclosed for a great many reasons and not all survivors want to pursue legal action.

At the UI, RVAP is uniquely positioned to provide confidentiality, because the Office of the Sexual Response Coordinator is not a confidential resource and many UI employees and members of the Antiviolence Coalition are mandatory reporters.

“RVAP was always embedded within the university,” Robinson said. “We are part of campus, and that enables a lot of partnerships.”

However, the closeness of RVAP’s relationship with the UI is not typical.

“Generally, universities would have memorandums of understanding with community partners,” Robinson said. “There are a few [RVAP centers], but not many, that are embedded. … Most of the time, a center like ours is a standalone nonprofit.”