University of Wisconsin released data Monday, Sept. 21, showing nearly 28 percent of undergraduate females reported experiencing sexual assault involving force or incapacitation since entering UW.
Twenty-seven universities participated in last spring’s survey. All students were asked to participate, and the study captured more than 9,000 UW students’ voices.
Officials held a press conference Monday to discuss the Association of American Universities sexual assault survey’s results. Chancellor Rebecca Blank said there are still far too many sexual assaults happening at UW.
“Sexual assault concerns me deeply,” Blank said. “I want to state unambiguously that every student has the right to be safe. Sexual violence and misconduct is unacceptable.”
Blank said the data confirmed the presumption that sexual assault is a serious problem on campus. Not only is it an emotional and physical violation, Blank and other UW officials agreed it is also a problem that can endanger a survivor’s academic performance.
Sarah Van Orman, executive director of University Health Services, said undergraduate women were most likely to say they’ve experienced sexual assault, but added that sexual assault affects everyone despite their gender or sexual orientation.
The survey said alcohol is a factor 76 percent of the time when victims experienced nonconsensual penetration. Van Orman said an overwhelming amount of perpetrators were identified as male.
UW Dean of Students Lori Berquam said there are several alcohol risk reduction initiatives that have grown from a need to minimize dangerous drinking behaviors.
“In our prevention efforts, we all have a responsibility to be a part of the solution,” Berquam said.
Van Orman said about half of the students in the survey reported witnessing an intoxicated person heading towards a sexual encounter, but most took no bystander action.
A task force managing the survey is recommending prevention programs keep encouraging students to intervene and support each other through the trauma of sexual assault.
With initiatives like Tonight geared toward preparing students to speak up if they see a sexual assault occurring, task force member and UW student Valyncia Raphael said the results of the study are a call for students to be more engaged with sexual assault conversations.
“Reporting a sexual assault is a very difficult process,” Van Orman said.
Of the cases reported, UW Police Department Chief Sue Riseling said very few victims contact police. Last year, 15 of the 165 sexual assault cases reported to UW were directly reported to UWPD. Thus far in 2015, only six of the 136 reports made to the university have been reported to UWPD.
Riseling said students can report cases of sexual assault to the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Equity and Diversity or the campus’s Title IX coordinator. Investigations will be initiated by these offices upon report, but Riseling said she hopes students go to UWPD, who are preferable because of the thoroughness of a criminal investigation.
Berquam said she now fully realizes how underreported sexual assault is on the UW campus and encourages students to report assaults in any way they can. Blank said more progress needs to be made in addressing the issue.
“We can and we should be taking every opportunity to expand our efforts to address this challenge,” Blank said. “We’ve done a lot, but there is clearly more work to be done. Sharing what we’ve learned from this survey helps us bring our entire campus community into the conversation.”