Sexual assault cases rising in Ames

Rebecca Carton

While Iowa City deals with a string of unsolved sexual assaults, reports indicate the numbers in Ames are on the rise.

According to the Ames Police Department’s statistical report, the number of sexual assaults that took place in 2006 has increased to 65, from the 43 incidents that were reported in 2005. Sixty-two percent of these cases were categorized as forcible sexual assaults.

Patrol Cmdr. Jim Robinson of the Ames Police Department said official sexual assault numbers are likely less than the number of actual incidents because many go unreported.

“Research shows that only a small percent [of sexual assault incidents] are actually reported,” he said.

The Story County Sexual Assault Response Team is composed of nine agencies, including Ames Police, ISU Police, Thielen Student Health Center, Mary Greeley Medical Center, 1111 Duff Ave., the Ames Center for the Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa, 2530 Chamberlin St., and respond to sexual assault victims.

“When we get a report, usually two or more people respond,” said Ames Police Officer Suzanne Owens of SART. “Most of our cases come through hospital or ACCESS shelters. Someone comes to them asking for help.”

Owens said the team responds regardless and if someone declines its services, the group gives the person contact information so the person can reach it later if the need arises.

“We take a report and try to get as much information as we can,” Owens said.

According to statistics from the team, over half of sexual assault cases in 2006 involved a victim who was between the ages of 18 and 25.

Iowa City is currently dealing with a string of sexual assaults against women that date back to September 2006. There have been 33 unsolved assaults on women walking alone that have been reported on or near the University of Iowa campus. The most recent took place on Sept. 30.

Sgt. Troy Kelsay of the Iowa City Police Department said although they somewhat expect cases of assault, the number of cases since last year is increasing.

“Last fall into this year, individual reports appeared that were more than we expected,” he said.

During the course of their investigations, the Iowa City Police went back and looked at the instances and found a pattern of assaults involving women walking alone downtown. Most commonly, a perpetrator has come up behind a woman, knocked her down and grabbed her.

“We addressed the situation by using decoy operations as well as the shifting of patrols,” Kelsay said. He was unable to comment on whether decoy operations were still being used.

Kelsay said the police do not believe a single individual is responsible for the string of assaults.

“I believe, by looking, that some, if not the majority, might have been done by some group of individuals,” Kelsay said. “The cases have similarities and we have four different composites of attackers since September.”

Kelsay said it is likely these cases are linked.

Robinson said Ames had never dealt with a “serial grabber” as Iowa City is now dealing with.

“It’s not an everyday occurrence by any means,” Robinson said.

ISU Police Cmdr. Gene Deisinger said he could not say if a similar situation near Iowa State’s campus would spark the use of decoy operations.

“We would look at the nature of the offender and develop the best strategy to deter further crime and catch the perpetrator,” he said. “It depends too much on context.”

Of the 67 sexual assault cases that SART attended to in 2005, 28 percent of victims were ISU students. ISU Police attended to eight sexual assault crimes last year. Deisinger said reports of sexual assaults on campus are relatively rare, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

“Reports of sexual assault that occur on campus are relatively infrequent,” he said. “That being said, we believe that there are additional incidents for which there are no reports.”

Owens said that many times a victim of a sexual assault is attacked by someone they know rather than by a stranger.

“Most are acquaintance-type assaults,” she said. “They usually are on a first-name basis.”

Owens said many of these acquaintances are usually met at bars. Because of this, alcohol can play a big role in sexual assault cases.

“The majority of cases involve drugs and alcohol,” she sad. “The buzz word is ‘spiked,’ but more often, it is overindulging in alcohol.”

Deisinger said watching how much you drink could play a big part in avoiding what could lead to dangerous situation.

“Alcohol is commonly a factor on the part of both parties,” he said. “Don’t put yourself in that situation by being significantly impaired by alcohol.”

Robinson said alcohol is the biggest substance abuse problem in the area.

If a person is in a situation in which they feel uncomfortable, Deisinger said to “address it, attempt to deter or stop it, attempt to leave, and ask for help.”

Both Robinson and Owens said the biggest way to protect from sexual assault is by drinking responsibly.

“Use the buddy system, don’t drink to excess, and avoid getting left behind,” Owens said. “Be aware of your surroundings and be careful who you drink with.”