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Students Demand Change at Assault Forum
IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- Hundreds of students at the University of Iowa spoke out against the culture of sexual assault at a public meeting with university president Sally Mason on Thursday.
The public listening post was a response to outrage on campus, after Mason was quoted in the school newspaper, The Daily Iowan, saying sexual assault could not be eradicated completely because of human nature.
Mason started the 90-minute session powerfully, sharing a story about how she was once forcibly groped by a man while she was in college. That opened the door for dozens of other students to speak out about the violence they have experience on campus.
"I was raped on August 24, 2007, at the end of my first week of classes as a freshman," one woman said. "I regret not going to the hospital on the day of the rape, but on top of my confusion about the situation was the convoluted student misconduct website, which conveyed to me the process was not a safe avenue for me to take to assess the situation. I felt disempowered, blamed, isolated, shamed, and angry."
Another student spoke on behalf of her friend who was sexually assaulted, and reported the crime to the university.
"The Dean asked me what I was wearing the night I was sexually assaulted," she said, later adding, "I've heard several times, 'How could you be so naive, innocent and dumb?'"
Students did forgive Mason, saying they understood she never meant to hurt anyone with her words, and thanking her for sharing her story. But they continued to criticize the university's policies nonetheless.
"You can have zero tolerance for sexual assault, but you can lack the policy and prevention that actually makes it worth something," one student said, pointing to the fact that there are zero tolerance policies in place for drug and plagiarism infractions, but not rape.
Students pointed out flaws with reporting sexual misconduct crimes, and an inability to find information on the school's website. They criticized campus police for refusing to escort them home, and the Night Ride service for refusing to pick up female students when they are drunk and vulnerable.
"Things that we put in place that we thought were working pretty well -- to hear from students that in fact some of those things aren't working nearly as well as we'd like, that's going to be good places to start," Mason said, in terms of changing policy.
Mason added that a true zero tolerance policy needs to exist for sexual misconduct crimes, and will take guidance from staff on creating that policy.
Mason also thanked the students who spoke out.
"It takes enormous courage, and I can say that from a very, very personal aspect that, to be able to stand up and tell that something like that has happened in your life, immediately takes courage that you can't possibly imagine," Mason said.
After the meeting ended, students said they were also grateful for the chance to speak out, and are optimistic for change.
Mason will be meeting with the Iowa Board of Regents on Friday to discuss her previous comments about sexual assault. She said she looks forward to sharing information from the public meeting with the regents.