Iowa State federally investigated for sexual assault handlings

Makayla Tendall

Iowa State University is one of 90 colleges being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education on whether the university investigates sexual assaults appropriately.

ISU President Steven Leath received a letter from the Department of Educations’ Office for Civil Rights on Oct. 15, 2014 after an ISU student filed a complaint with the OCR saying she felt discriminated against during her sexual assault case involving a male student.

According to the letter, “the complaint raises whether the University fails to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice.”

The complaint argues that failure to properly investigate sexual assaults creates “a sexually hostile environment” for students at Iowa State. 

The sexual assault in question occurred at the end of March 2014, according to the criminal complaint filed with ISU Police Department.

According to the complaint, Patrick Whetstone, a 19-year-old freshman at Iowa State at the time of the assault, was charged with third-degree sexual abuse. 

The criminal complaint stated that a man assaulted a 19-year-old female ISU student in Frederiksen Court.

The man and the victim were both consuming alcohol at a party in an apartment on campus the night before and the woman became sick due to intoxication, according to the complaint.

The complaint also said that the woman woke to a man assaulting her in the early morning hours of March 30. 

The criminal complaint was filed by ISU Police on Jan. 12, 2015, eight months after the incident. There is a student disciplinary hearing scheduled in February.

John McCarroll, director of University Relations, said the federal investigation did not impact the sexual assault investigation, the Associated Press reported. 

ISU Police Capt. Aaron DeLashmutt agreed.

“Any sexual assault case, we pretty much give it everything we can,” DeLashmutt said. “The Department of Education investigation is completely different. We’re not a part of that process. It didn’t really affect our process. Obviously, we continued on and continued with our process.“

The investigation of Iowa State’s handling of sexual assaults also comes after two sexual assaults were reported in the last month, one at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and one in Larch Residence Hall.

Frank LoMonte, executive director at the Student Press Law Center, said sexual assaults on college campuses are much more than an investigative trend being undertaken by the Obama administration. 

“Victims on campuses started coming forward in a very public way,” LoMonte said. 

A 2012 column in The Amherst Student, the student newspaper at Amherst College in Massachusetts, sparked a conversation about how colleges and universities handle sexual assault.

A sexual assault victim detailed her own account of being victimized by her own college after she reported her sexual assault and the college “treated her like she was dangerous,” LoMonte said. 

After the dialogue on sexual assault and how the investigations are being performed, pressure was put on the education system on how it handles sexual assault cases.

The other factor is that journalists focused on college deficiencies in reference to sexual assault cases. There was a “drumbeat of disclosures that have come forward that showed colleges weren’t taking the issue seriously,” LoMonte said. 

“It’s widely known colleges under-report these crimes,” LoMonte said of higher-education institutions across the country. 

LoMonte said the White House is now listening to victims around the country, shown by initiatives like the “It’s On Us” campaign, which encourages university student bodies to start a conversation about how to prevent sexual assaults.

LoMonte said the most likely repercussion of a negative outcome in the investigation would be a fine for the university.