A road less traveled: ISU, Ames officials encourage reporting sexual assaults to help reduce stigma, shame

Katie Titus

Editor’s note: The victim’s name in this article has been changed to protect her privacy.

She thought that nobody would believe her. She thought she would get in trouble because she was raped by her boyfriend.

Sarah said that she and her boyfriend were hanging out when things went further than she had planned. Her boyfriend put a condom on and even though she said she was not OK with it, he continued by saying that “it was OK because they were dating.”

When Sarah was sexually assaulted, she did not know who to talk to or where to turn. So the assault went unreported, and she is not the only one.

“I didn’t report it because I didn’t want to get in trouble,” said Sarah, a sophomore in apparel merchandizing and design. “I didn’t want my parents to find out because they would be disappointed.”

Sarah said she did not want to report the sexual assault because both she and her assaulter had the same group of friends and were from the same town. She did not want it to ruin her reputation but did not know that there were options to report sexual assaults anonymously.

Statistics on national college campus sexual assaults

About one-of-20 women — 4.7 percent — have been raped in college. Of that percentage, 72 percent of the assaults involved the woman being so intoxicated she could not consent, according to the Sexual Victimization of College Women National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Freshmen and sophomores are more likely to be sexually assaulted, and most sexual assaults happen between midnight and 6 a.m., according to the Campus Sexual Assault Study from the National Institute of Justice.

In 2013, there were 13 sexual assaults reported to the ISU Police Department, 55 cases reported to Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and 46 reported for all of Ames to the Ames Police Department. Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support (ACCESS) gets from 50 to 70 calls each month on the sexual assault hotline.   

Statistics from the Sexual Assault Awareness Month website showed that 5 percent of women report rapes or sexual assaults, but for every 1,000 college women at a university, there are 35 rapes per year. This means that out of the roughly 15,650 women who attend Iowa State, there are approximately 548 rapes or sexual assaults a year, but only about 27 of them would be reported.

Reporting to ISU Police Department

ISU Police and Iowa State worked together to create Sexual Assault Response Team, a county-wide team involving law enforcement, an advocacy team and a medical response team to help college students.

“We are most successful at getting the victim to report if we go to the hospital,” said Captain Aaron Delashmutt of the ISU Police Department. “We wait outside of the hospital room door, and they are asked if they want to talk to us. If they do, we go in; if they don’t we go back.”

Although it is encouraged by SART to report the assault, it is not mandatory. Victims can report the assault at any time by calling ACCESS on a hotline specific for women who have suffered sexual assault or domestic abuse. SART and ACCESS both work with Iowa State to help sexual assault victims, but, ACCESS also covers domestic abuse and shelter services for women.

“When a sexual assault does happen, we tell ACCESS and we all respond to it together,” Delashmutt said. “We offer them options. They can get help if they want to and we encourage that they do.”

Reporting to ACCESS        

ACCESS is an outreach program for students to report or talk about sexual assaults. It offers a hotline to call, as well as a shelter if a woman is feeling unsafe where she stays.

“Campus is where we tend to focus most,” said Angie Schreck, Story County ACCESS executive director. “We network with professors, student services, the student clinic and greek affairs to make sure we get the word out to as many students as possible.”

In most cases, the hospital or police department contacts ACCESS if there has been an assault, Schreck said.

“It is not because the assaults aren’t happening,” Schreck said. “It is because they don’t know what to do when it does happen.”

ACCESS advertises to students through advocacy — student advocates spread the word — and a booth it sets up during freshman orientation.

“We set up the booth not so that people will come over and talk to us, but so they know our services are available,” Schreck said.

Reporting to the Ames Police Department

Ames Police Department gets sexual assault reports from the entire city of Ames. In 2013, Ames Police got 46 reported assaults.

“It’s like any other case for us,” Ames Police Chief Geoff Huff said. “We don’t have enough information to make an arrest in every case.”

The sentence can vary depending on the degree of the assault. There is usually a no contact order by the judge until the case is adjudicated. After the case, a restraining order can be put in place, Huff said.

Sexual assault can be broken down into three degrees in Iowa, all of which are considered felonies. A felony is a crime committed on a federal level and broken down into different classes depending on how “bad” the crime is.

Reporting to Student Services

Student Services is another place available for students to make reports and seek counseling after an assault. When students go into Student Services, an unbiased support team sees them right away. The team sits with them and helps them file police reports, seek medical options and get any rape kit data that is needed.

“Psychologically, [victims] need immediate crisis response,” said Michelle Roling, a Student Services representative. “The first person they come in contact with at student services is their therapist and will be with them every step of the way.”     

Student Services never reports the information given to it to police. It is confidential and up to the student to report the sexual assault to the police.

“Confidentiality is always going to happen,” Roling said. “We are a great place to start when trying to figure out what steps to take. It is never too late to create a chain of evidence.”     

Reporting to Judicial Affairs

Judicial affairs is an option students may take if they decide to go through Iowa State’s court system to report the assault. 

Students could be protected and feel safer when going to class by having the offender removed from her classes, getting parking passes on campus or taking one-on-one classes, said Michelle Boettcher, assistant dean of students with Judicial Affairs.

“Sexual assault is a major charge,” Boettcher said. “Accused students could be suspended or expelled for their actions, but there have been cases where we don’t have enough evidence to hold them responsible.”

Some students are reporting

“Yes, we should absolutely report it,” said Brooke Long, junior in speech communications. “People don’t report because of the stigma that comes with reporting, and in order to lose that stigma, victims have to come out about it.

“Reporting after a sexual assault is an important part of closure from the event.” Long said. “The outreach programs won’t work if people aren’t using them.” 

All of the outreach programs offer confidential ways for students to report sexual assaults no matter when the actual attack happened. Neither Sarah or Long had ever heard of the ACCESS program and the services it offers, but all three women agreed that now that they are aware of the programs they would use them in the future if needed.

Outreach programs on campus are working to help women become aware of their options and to help them get back to living a normal life.

“Sexual assault is a serious problem in college,” Long said. “No matter what, it is never the victim’s fault.”