It may appear that incidents of sexual assault are on the rise across campus at Iowa State, based on the increased number of Crime Warning reports received by students.
“There have been an alarming number of sexual assaults reported to police recently," said Tricia Williams, the campus prevention and outreach advocate for ACCESS. "That being said, it is important to remember that sexual assault instances reported [as Crime Warnings] are merely those that have been brought to the awareness of police. Many survivors of sexual assault never report to the police."
In order for an incident of sexual assault to be reported to students via a crime warning notification, it must have occurred in one of the the Iowa State Police Department’s areas and within a recent window of time. Every report of sexual assault is met with response from three primary responding entities — law enforcement, advocacy and medical.
The Iowa State Police Department works in partnership with ACCESS and medical organizations such as Thielen Student Health Center and the Mary Greeley Medical Center to provide necessary resources to victims of sexual assault. They also currently take part in ongoing initiatives with the intent of changing the culture around sexual assault reporting and victimization.
“As strange as it may sound, my goal is to increase the number of reports that we get every year," said Anthony Greiter, the community outreach specialist for the Iowa State Police Department. "The reason that I can say that confidently and comfortably is because we know that sexual assaults are taking place and are not being reported. We want people to feel comfortable enough with us and confident enough with us, [that] they do come forward and report.”
The Iowa State Police Department has been a part of an ongoing sexual assault prevention campaign, “Change the Message, Change the Culture,” in partnership with the international “Start by Believing” campaign since 2014. It was the first police department in the state of Iowa to take part in this campaign.
“The goal is pretty simple," Greiter said. "We want to encourage people who are the recipients of sexual assault reports to start by believing, and those recipients could be professionals, they could be law enforcement, medical, advocacy, but they could also be friends. Most people who report sexual assault don’t go to a stranger in a uniform first, they go to somebody that they trust, somebody that they know."
As a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Iowa State Police Department hosted its second annual Start By Believing Day earlier this month. The event was hosted to inform the Iowa State community of the resources and support available to sexual assault victims. The organization has also taken to social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to spread their message of support and advocacy.
“Many organizations are talking about sexual assault much more than normal during the month of April," Williams said. "This often correlates with higher numbers of survivors seeking services from places like ACCESS. One reason that there may be more Crime [Warning] reports is because survivors are learning about services available to them during the month of April."
Throughout the month of April, the social media pages of Iowa State Police has featured various messages of support for victims of both sexual assault as well as the culture that surrounds it.
“Anyone can commit a sexual assault, but society has historically empathized with male offenders. Society often focuses on how the allegations will 'destroy their future,' blaming the victim for actions the offender took and minimizing those actions. #StartByBelieving #SAAM,” read a tweet from the Iowa State Police Department’s twitter page.
The Iowa State Police Department has held these principles and philosophies related to creating a welcoming and supportive environment for victims of sexual assault since before the introduction of the "Start By Believing" campaign and other similar initiatives. Having a name for such a campaign simply makes it easier to convey a consistent message, Greiter said.
“What we want people to recognize is that everything we do is for a purpose," Greiter said. "We recognize that the picture that society gets is not often the full picture, for a number of reasons. Maybe we can’t release all of the information, maybe people are spreading false information. But there is a lot that goes on in sexual assault reports, and in an effort to provide the best services possible for [victims] so they can start recovering, we work really hard to move in a positive direction."
If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, call the ACCESS 24/7/365 crisis line for domestic violence (515-292-0519) or sexual assault (515-292-5378).