Iowa State (ISU) has been in hot water recently regarding its accused mishandling of sexual misconduct cases. Following a recent $47,500 settlement with a student on campus, the University is pledging to change its policies regarding this type of case.
While it’s certainly not the first or last university to be accused of brushing aside serious accusations regarding sexual assault, hopefully these changes will bring justice and closure for survivors of sexual misconduct cases and set an example on how other campuses should address similar issues.
In 2015, former Iowa State student Taylor Niesen reported to the University that she was sexually assaulted by a fraternity member on campus. While the fraternity was temporarily shut down and the accused student suspended from the fraternity, the accused student hired an attorney and refused to be interviewed by the school.
Following this, the school stated it “was unable to find the student responsible because of insufficient evidence.” Niesen then found herself being glared at in school by her accused attacker and feeling ostracized by her community leading to her eventual decision to drop out in 2015 and sue the university.
Fears of reporting sexual assault are far too common on college campuses across the country. According to a report done by the Department of Justice, only one in five college-age women who are sexually assaulted report the attack to the police. In fact, 89 percent of colleges reported zero incidents of rape in 2015, according to American Association of University Women (AAUW).
This, however, does not mean that rape is not happening on college campuses but rather alludes to the fact that it’s going mostly unreported.
At Clemson University, student Ann Christie found this fear of reporting come to a terrifying reality after she reported a sexual assault to her university in 2013. According to Christie, she was placed in a room with her accused attacker where they were only separated by a sheet. On his side, he had with him both a lawyer and a character witness.
“Going through that and having him have the ability to yell at me, to ask me questions, to ask me the questions of, ‘Did you go home with guys all the time? Do you know someone in my fraternity that you’re trying to get back at? Do you know me and are you trying to get back at me? Do you sleep around?’” Christie said.
The mishandling of cases by universities strikes deep into the fears of many sexual assault victims and are a factor to why so many cases go unreported. According to her lawyer, Niesen was less interested in a “pay day” and more in the university changing its policies and processes regarding how sexual assault cases are addressed on campus. Two other cases, one that was dismissed and another that is ongoing, probably added Iowa State promising to change the way they do things.
Iowa State held a public forum on May 9th following a campus climate survey through which the University found that 11 percent of respondents indicated they had experienced unwanted sexual contact or conduct while at ISU.
ISU has made several recent changes to how it handles reports of sexual violence on campus, said Annette Hacker, an ISU spokeswoman. The university reports the new changes will include an overhaul of ISU’s sexual misconduct policy, the launch of a sexual misconduct prevention initiative and new training for all faculty and staff.
Niesen’s lawyers say she’s pleased with the result, stating “We believe Iowa State – unlike any university probably anywhere – is truly committed to improving on its response to sexual assault.”
Iowa State did not, however, acknowledge wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
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