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March 7, 2003
Volume 40, No. 8

features

Iowa Writers' Workshop brings home national honor
David Skorton becomes president
On first day, president reorganizes administration
Athletics pays University offices $9.3 million
Redefining 'respect' to combat sexual assaults
Bottling pathogens to keep farms safe
   

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Global scholars win travel, time
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Longevity awards given to 21 employees
UI police offer rape information packet
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Redefining 'respect' to combat sexual assaults

Young woman walking along the river just east of the arts campus.
An unidentified woman walking alone at night passes one of the University’s blue-light phones, connected directly to the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month arrives in April with a continuing public discussion of the settlement last month of a case involving Hawkeye basketball player Pierre Pierce.

Karla Miller, executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, worked with committees that reviewed the case and assessed campus climate regarding sexual assault. She suggests that the campus must learn from the case and accept a responsibility for educating all students and other University community members about the subject.

Tips from UI police team

When working alone at night in a University office, lock your office door even if your building is locked.

• Feel free to contact Public Safety if you see or hear a suspicious person. It’s better to be overly cautious than to be harmed. Most people don’t call soon enough for fear of being embarrassed if the situation has been misunderstood, but that leaves you open to potential harm.

• In the hospital, call the security department for help because they’re located in the hospital. Speed of reporting is essential.

• Speak out if you have concerns about lighting or conditions near your workplace. The department does security survey audits that identify potential problems and suggest solutions.

• Consider taking a 12-hour Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course, which trains you to protect yourself by avoiding potentially dangerous situations and learning self-defense techniques. “This is the best preventive measure for dealing with strangers,” says Lt. David Visin, who teaches the course. “It’s free to faculty and staff. We have men’s self-protection courses, too.”

RVAP also offers courses on assertiveness and the dynamics of sexual assault.

• Follow your instincts. If something seems wrong to you, it probably is. Get away from the situation and call 911. You may be protecting someone else, too.

• If you are alone with someone you know, make sure the person listens to what you say and respects your choices, especially around sexual issues.

Information packets are available from the UI Department of Public Safety.

 

“It is important to include as many people and perspectives as possible,” she says, “to add, adjust, enhance, and improve what we have currently so that we can arrive at effective, practical, and fair policies and procedures allowing us to support victims of crime and to help perpetrators have no more victims.”

Miller has developed a draft model for cases involving criminal behavior and Code of Student Life violations for consideration by campus committees and the administration. In it, she suggests that several developmental issues need to be recognized.

Watch the definitions

She is concerned that the word “respect” is not defined in a universal way. For example, one definition of many younger people, conforming to ideas found in movies, television, music videos, and their peer group, equates respect with power, control, domination, and submission by one person or group over another. Sources of power and control include physical, financial, intellectual, emotional, and/or psychological superiority, she says.

While some might define respect as honor, others see respecting others as a weakness.

“If you think respect means fearing someone, how do you interpret the message, ‘You need to respect women and children?’” Miller says.

“To write effective procedures, it is imperative that we understand this,” she says. “Without first teaching a definition more in line with the dictionary definition, all the information we impart will be filtered through that ‘respect-equals-fear’ paradigm.”

Students also live in a world where boundaries of acceptable danger are being pushed back or erased, Miller says. “Some people accept the premise that it is a good and normal idea to have products students can use in the bar to test their drinks for date rape drugs—as if it’s normal to expect that someone might poison your drink! Few discussions center on the problem of the widespread use and acceptance of these drugs as a means of raping women.”

What Miller calls “the high-level myths” of sexual assault are exploited effectively by defense attorneys, she says—for example, the myth that there is a high level of false or malicious reports by women or that women ask for rape.

“Research shows the incidence of false reporting is no higher than for any other crime, and is probably less than most,” she says.

Make policies clear

Under these circumstances, Miller says, it’s important to assure that the University’s philosophy, policies, and procedures are clear in the context of the times and experiences of the students that they’re designed to reach.

“Our sexual assault policy as it was written is really pretty good,” she says. “At the time it was written, it was pioneering. But offenders and defense lawyers have become more sophisticated and boundaries have changed. We need to be more specific about behaviors that will be sanctioned—sexual assault, all forms of abuse, lies, deceit—and the sanctions that will be used.”

She also suggests educational programs for all faculty, staff members, coaches, and administrators.

“I’m not talking the one-half-day session that people are required to attend,” she says. “That doesn’t work. We need commitment. We need to take a stand that we won’t set up the situation as ‘he said, she said’ any more. We do not have to choose camps—we just need to focus on the behavior. We don’t want any more victims.”


Article by Anne Tanner

 

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