In steps to streamline systems for sexual assault survivors, the Wisconsin State Senate passed bipartisan proposals for sexual assault kit collection. Meanwhile in Madison, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin obtained funding for expanded survivor services, and the student government passed legislation to create an anti-violence coordinator position.
In November, two sexual assault kit bills part of a bipartisan proposal passed in the Wisconsin State Senate, which would set a timeline for sexual assault kit collection processing and storage and create a kit tracking system. After partisan strife, the legislation headed to Governor Tony Evers’ desk to be signed into law.
Under the new legislation, sexual assault survivors who want to report their assault are required to go to a health care professional who has to notify law enforcement within 24 hours or send it to state crime laboratories within 72 hours if the survivor does not want to report the crime. Police must also send the kit into the state crime laboratories for testing by the police within two weeks, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
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The bill aims to make the process more streamlined to prevent a backlog of untested sexual assault kits across Wisconsin, which was found to be the case in 2014. The backlog of 6,000 untested kits took four years to be eliminated, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
For Madison residents, the Dane County Multi-Agency Center has centralized resources and information for sexual assault survivors making access easier. Their platform helps survivors through vulnerable times as they look for advocacy in filing police reports or finding transportation to the single hospital in Dane country that performs comprehensive forensic sexual exams — Unity Point Health-Meriter hospital in downtown Madison.
For students at the University of Wisconsin, University Health Services started a forensic nurse examiner’s program in partnership with the Dane County Multi-Agency Center. The program was started with money from a two-year grant from the Office of Victims of Crime.
According to Kate Walsh, an associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Psychology who obtained the money to expand survivor services and advocacy at UW, other campuses and data show that students are asking for a nurse examiner’s program at UW.
“They don’t want to go to lots of different places to get all of their different needs met, they don’t want to have to keep retelling their story over and over again, not knowing how the person on the other end is going to respond to them,” Walsh said.
Starting in the fall of 2021, students could schedule an appointment through UHS where they could be seen by a forensic nurse at the campus health clinic where an advocate will be present to explain and answer questions about the exam and additional resources.
From two surveys conducted at UW in 2015 and then 2019, 1 in 4 undergraduate women said they had experienced non-consensual sexual contact in their college career, but few reported or sought resources after the crime. Despite the success of Walsh’s programs, she says UW still has low reporting rates.
Walsh and other advocacy organizations on campus are launching an awareness campaign next semester to publicize DaneMAC and the forensic nurses available on campus. Since the program’s soft launch, Walsh saw students make use of the program and many said they would not have traveled to Meriter hospital to get the exam done.
UHS played a collaborative role in implementing the program and has assigned half-time employees to assist the coordinator up if they are seeing another student — ensuring all student needs are met. Walsh said she has been happy with how UW has responded to the program.
“It’s important that when you have a forensic exam, you also have access to an advocate who can help explain the different parts of the exam so that the survivor can choose what parts they want and what parts they don’t,” Walsh said.
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The Associated Students of Madison demonstrated its support for survivors on campus by ensuring the long-term role of an advocate at UHS. Additionally, ASM passed legislation Dec. 1 to create an anti-violence coordinator position on campus.
One of the legislation’s co-authors, Rep. Erin Tritz, said UW puts significant pressure on smaller organizations and off-campus resources to do anti-violence work. Tritz said there should be more people supporting legislative change such as better accommodation systems and advocates for survivors, more survivor services, expanded mental health appointment availability, increased diversity and training for students on how to adequately respond to situations involving sexual violence.
In an email statement to The Herald, UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said each campus unit working in violence prevention has “incredibly dedicated” staff members who regularly seek ways to improve and advocate for and with students. Many of these staff members work directly with student organizations, forming partnerships critical to continuing UW’s progress in moving to a violence-free campus, McGlone added.
Reonda Washington, a violence prevention specialist at UHS, conducted Color of Drinking survey in 2018 according to which alcohol is the “#1 date-rape drug” at UW. There is growing consensus that sexual violence is not restricted to business hours and on-campus spaces.
“We’re one of the top party schools in the nation, and we have a serious problem with alcohol culture on campus,” Tritz said.
Students still face barriers trying to access forensic nurses because UHS is not open overnight. In these cases, students still have to go to Meriter hospital — located past Ogg residential hall — rather than UHS.
Promoting Awareness and Victim Empowerment at UW, or PAVE-UW, started an activism campaign this semester for increased funding for survivor advocacy and services at UW. In their petition to the UW administration, PAVE-UW said that with more money, Survivor Services could expand its hours of availability and increase crisis support services.
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“I do think that it’s difficult for students to go off-campus and be in this big system where they are not sure what’s going to happen, and I think that a lot of people feel safer staying within the UHS realm,” Walsh said. “We have opened up more options for people to get an exam done and have evidence collected. Things don’t stop here as we need to make sure other pieces of our judicial system are operating well and treating our students well by seeing their cases through to the end.”
Walsh said she hopes her success will encourage UW to allocate more money for these resources. The recent legislation passed by ASM will also continue to establish long-term resources for survivors at UW.