Simpson seniors explain data on sexual assault reporting at Iowa colleges

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Left to right: Laura Wiersema; Britteny Johnson; Temesha Derby—Photo by Randy Paulson

Three seniors presented their research capstone findings about the effectiveness of sexual assault prevention programs at Simpson College’s annual Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium last Thursday.

Laura Wiersema, Britteny Johnson and Temesha Derby spent this semester digging into the prevalence of sexual assault reporting at numerous colleges around Iowa. The focus of their investigation was how an increased awareness of sexual assault and reporting procedures impacted the rate of actual reported cases of sexual assault.

The seniors said they chose this particular topic for their project because campus sexual assault is an issue relevant to all three of them as college women. “One of the things we felt was really important was talking about rape culture on college campuses,” said Wiersema during the presentation.

After speaking with several students at multiple colleges around Iowa, as well as different Title IX coordinators responsible for investigating sexual misconduct cases, the three students said the results were still inconclusive.

According to their report on IowaWatch.org, they wrote, “Despite faculty and staff efforts to educate students about sexual assault prevention and reporting, colleges and universities in Iowa struggle to measure how effective these initiatives are on their campuses.”

Part of the difficulty in determining an exact cause-and-effect relationship between awareness efforts and instances of reporting was the differing data at the schools they looked at.

They found the data of reported cases also changed year to year. For example, at both Loras College and Drake University, the group found reported rape cases rose from 2014 to 2015, but then fell again in 2016. However, at Simpson College during that same time span, the number of reported cases kept increasing.

The seniors found the University of Dubuque to be something of an anomaly: In 2014, 2015 and 2016, they said Dubuque reported no cases of sexual assault.

Meanwhile, two Dubuque students they interviewed said this data was more of an indication that the university does not make it clear how to go about reporting sexual assault when it does happen or who to talk to on campus.

Toward the end of their presentation, the group talked about the role of college media in reporting on campus sexual assault and how such reporting can do both good and harm.

“The newspaper is there to be a watchdog for the people,” Wiersema said, explaining that sexual assault is a serious issue that reporters have a duty to inform the public about.

However, she did also acknowledge that such reporting, if done wrong, can have negative effects, such as making a survivor feel unsafe if their name is used.

While their research did not come to a definitive answer to the question of how sexual assault prevention programs impact the number of reported cases, they did agree that creating a safe atmosphere for survivors to come forward was still an important goal colleges should strive to achieve.


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