The number of University of Iowa students arrested or cited in the last school year was higher than in the previous two years, and one group that saw a big jump was women.
During the 2011-12 school year, 508 female students were arrested or ticketed by UI or Iowa City police officers. That’s a 57 percent increase over the 324 female students arrested in the 2009-10 school year, according to the UI Office of the Dean of Students.
“The fact that female arrests are up is consistent with national data that shows that high-risk drinking among women is increasing,” said Kelly Bender, community harm reduction initiatives coordinator for the UI Division of Student Life.
UI numbers breaking down alcohol arrests by gender were not available. But, looking at the whole student body, 441 students were arrested or ticketed on suspicion of public intoxication during the 2011-12 school year, a 20 percent increase from the 2009-10 school year.
Operating while intoxicated arrests for UI students climbed 37 percent during that period, and 244 people were arrested for being in a bar after hours last year. That is a 32 percent increase over the 2010-11 school year, the first year of the city’s ordinance prohibiting anyone under 21 from being in a bar after 10 p.m.
Bender said analysts are careful to not read too much into arrest data, which can be swayed by numerous influences, including weather trends, Hawkeye football and police staffing levels. But, she said, the increase in arrests and citations could be the result of tougher policing.
“There has been a push to curb dangerous alcohol behavior,” Bender said.
And, she said, if low-level offenses like alcohol possession remain high while serious offenses decrease, that could support a strategy of stronger enforcement.
Still, she said, if alcohol offenses continue to increase, “That certainly tells us we haven’t yet solved the problem.”
“We have more work to do, and everyone understands that,” she said.
Numerous media outlets and academic journals have reported that the binge-drinking gap between men and women is shrinking. An analysis of 31 studies has shown that the problem of drinking among young women is growing, according to WebMD and other news outlets.
UI student arrest statistics show that alcohol offenses make up a large majority of the crimes, and the percentage of female undergraduate students who were arrested or cited in the last school year rose to 4.4 percent from 2.9 percent in the 2009-10 school year.
When considering various groups within the female student population, 6.7 percent of sorority members were arrested in the 2011-12 school year, and 4.7 percent of the females in residence halls faced criminal charges last year, according to the Dean’s Office.
Both of those numbers are up since 2009-10, and Bender said there are complex reasons for the changes in female alcohol consumption and arrests. She said national studies show the problem is not unique to the UI campus, but the trend is a concern for numerous reasons.
“Alcohol affects women differently than men,” she said. “And they can be exposed to consequences that men aren’t exposed to.”
Karla Miller, executive director of Iowa City’s Rape Victim Advocacy Program, said it’s true that binge drinking is a high-risk activity for women, who become more vulnerable to perpetrators. But Miller warns against using alcohol-related research to blame the victim.
“Is it high-risk behavior? Absolutely,” she said. “Is it a rapeable offense to be drunk? No.”
Miller said she’s encouraged by the increase in arrest rates across the board.
“I think more women and men are being arrested more and cited more because (police) are trying to make it safer for everyone,” she said. “There is a big push to stop underage drinking and dangerous drinking.”
The UI in 2010 launched a “Think Before You Drink” campaign aimed at curbing excessive drinking and high-risk behavior around Hawkeye games. That resulted in an increase in citations on game days, but UI Department of Public Safety Associate Director David Visin said he thinks the overall rise in arrests and citations has more to do with “an increase in our staff to patrol the downtown areas.”
Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said she thinks the rise in student arrests might simply be driven by an increase in offenses. Officers started ticketing people for being in bars two years ago, and she said the fines have been decreased from $500 for an initial offense to $300, increasing the number of willing violators.
“For those willing to pay the fine, we knew that would cause more people to break the ordinance,” Brotherton said. “It definitely increased the violations to some degree.”
Brotherton said changing dynamics in the neighborhoods – more apartment buildings and clustered parties – are shifting the way officers patrol the community. Police have been spending more time in neighborhoods patrolling off-premise parties.