Iowa looks to shelter victims, survivors of sexual assault

DES MOINES — Iowa groups have spent the past month focused on finding shelter and support for victims of sexual assault, to help them stay anonymous and safe. The efforts won’t stop, even as Sexual Assault Awareness Month ends.

There is no ‘good’ news in a story like this, but for Iowa, there is a silver lining. At four sexual assaults per 100,000 population, the state ranks last in the nation for these crimes.

For perspective, that number is 148 in Alaska. Neighboring Missouri and Kansas report closer to 50, according to the World Population Review.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate – whose office oversees programs to prevent sexual assault – said while the numbers are low, they are headed in the wrong direction.

“This type of issue is not reserved for the bigger counties or bigger city areas,” said Pate. “This is, unfortunately, an equal opportunity problem. And we have seen statistics along those lines that have been very, very disturbing.”

Pate said people don’t always report these types of assaults for fear of being stigmatized or re-victimized, making exact numbers hard to track.

So, the state is finding ways to help survivors stay anonymous to create safety, and encourage more reporting.

In order to register to vote in Iowa, people have to give their address. Pate said if someone is hesitant to do that – because they’re afraid of being sexually harassed, assaulted or stalked – the state offers what’s known as a “Safe at Home” program.

“We provide them with an address confidentiality program, so that they can protect where they live at,” said Pate. “We give them an alternative address they can use to receive all their mail, of course, to be able to use as their voter registration point. That’s where we’ve seen a real impact.”

Pate says 1,200 people from three-quarters of Iowa’s counties are enrolled in the Safe at Home program, and the number participating has been on the rise since the program’s inception.