A more forceful message

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: February 28 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:15 am in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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It appears University of Iowa President Sally Mason got the message.

It was loud, clear and unambiguous, unlike the public statements uttered by Mason that sparked it.

“I’m not pleased that we have sexual assaults, obviously,” Mason told the Daily Iowan last week amid reports of a string of sexual assaults on or near campus. “The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate, but the more we understand about it, the better we are at trying to handle it and help people get through these difficult situations.”

Attributing rape to “human nature” drew swift and sharp protest from University of Iowa students and other activists who expect, rightly, that a university leader should speak strongly and clearly on the serious subject of sexual assault. We don’t believe that Mason doesn’t take the problem seriously, but being philosophical rather than forceful left a different public impression.

Mason has since apologized, and said what she should have said in the first place. “I do want to make my position clear,” Mason said Tuesday during a weekly president’s forum. “I believe there is no excuse for sexual assault. I have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. I know that sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor.”

Now that Mason has corrected her mistake, the focus needs to be on trying to prevent assaults, punish perpetrators and support victims. The university’s past track record on these matters has earned some well-deserved criticism.

But progress is being made. The UI formed a separate office in 2008 to deal with sexual misconduct, and all incoming freshmen must complete a sexual assault awareness course. Mason said she agrees with protesters who want campus assault warnings to focus more on punishing perpetrators and less on highlighting risks taken by victims.

Much more can be done. Words matter, but the UI’s actions will matter more.

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