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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW researchers awarded ISEI grant to research post-sexual assault care services for underrepresented groups

‘We have the potential to make some really clear policy recommendations around this,’ Dr. Kate Walsh says
The Badger Herald archival photo. June 2023. Photo by Cat Carroll.

CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of rape, sexual violence and sexual assault. If you have been sexually assaulted, experienced sexual violence, or are not sure, there are several ways to get support. View options on campus through University Health Services.

Editor’s Note: In this article, individuals who have experienced sexual assault or sexual violence will be referred to as survivors, but it should be noted that not all people with these experiences identify with this term.

University of Wisconsin researchers were awarded funding through the Increasing Social and Economic Inclusion initiative to conduct research on post-sexual assault care for survivors of color, LGBTQ+ survivors and survivors living in poverty.


The research is being conducted by principal investigator and UW associate professor in the gender and women’s studies and psychology departments Kate Walsh.

Walsh’s research was one of seven projects selected to receive support through the ISEI initiative, which funds projects that have the potential to expand knowledge and provide actionable solutions to reduce social and economic disparities, according to UW Research.

Indigenous nurse researcher in the UW School of Nursing Jeneile Luebke is serving as co-principal investigator, and queer and trans social worker in the UW School of Social Work LB Klein is the project’s co-investigator.

A community partner from Dane County Multi-Agency Center — a nonprofit that has helped bring forensic nurse exams and increased survivor advocacy to campus — is also working with Walsh to conduct research.

Forensic nursing services can provide individuals with care immediately after they experience assault. These services can check individuals for physical injuries, perform STI testing, HIV testing and pregnancy prophylaxis, according to Walsh. Additionally, forensic nursing services can provide emotional support, safety planning and connect individuals with appropriate follow-up care.

Despite the wraparound care these services can provide, many survivors do not receive this kind of care.

“One of the things we’ve been seeing in the public health world is that only about one in five people who experience a rape actually get this kind of care,” Walsh said. “So, about 80% of people who experience a rape don’t come in for this kind of care and don’t have the option of getting connected to other kinds of follow-up care.”

Walsh suspects that individuals might perceive this kind of care to be connected to the criminal legal system, which may deter survivors from receiving this care.

“They might perceive it to be connected to police, and certainly survivors of color may have concerns about that,” Walsh said. “What we want to do is try to make the care itself, and the systems that provide the support, more culturally responsive and more identity affirming for folks.”

Walsh’s project is studying this in the context of forensic nursing exams specifically. With a pilot grant from the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research for the 2022-23 academic year, Walsh and her colleagues started to build focus and advisory board groups with nurses and sexual assault survivors.

The researchers began to focus on the nursing and exam process, with the idea being that by improving the training nurses receive — specifically around what it’s like to care for Black, indigenous and LGBTQ+ individuals — the care people receive will also be improved, Walsh said.

By providing individuals with access to identity focused and culturally specific care, overall health disparities can be reduced in the long term, Walsh said.

“What I suspect is happening right now is people may be going through exams that don’t meet their needs, either culturally or identity wise,” Walsh said. “And then they may be significantly less likely to use any kind of follow up referrals, like mental health or other kinds of medical things. That can result in long-term health disparities for folks that don’t have access to these forms of care.”

With the recently awarded ISEI grant, Walsh and her colleagues are working to expand the groups of people they are studying — thinking about intersecting experiences people may have. Walsh will research individuals experiencing poverty, and what it might look like to be low-income and seeking post-sexual assault services.

The ISEI funding will also be put towards increasing perspectives from providers within the hospital system, providing more comprehensive training for hospital staff, Walsh said.

The research is also being expanded to analyze the individuals who are not accessing care and what barriers may be preventing them from accessing care.

The research process is slow, according to Walsh, and Walsh and her colleagues are working to build true partnerships with the individuals they are working with. By collecting more data, Walsh hopes to eventually see changes in care, policies and health inequities.

“We have the potential to make some really clear policy recommendations around this,” Walsh said.

Resources regarding sexual assault:

  • RCC: Sexual Violence Resource Center (608)-251-7273
  • Room to be Safe: For Queer survivors of violence: (414) 856-LGBT (5428)
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
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