College News

Students lobby for Violence Prevention Specialist in state-law

Students asked state legislators to provide provisions state law for a Violence Prevention Specialist on every UW System campus.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

With one in four women on UW System campuses reporting they have been sexually assaulted, ensuring resources for survivors is a priority for many leaders.

When UW System Student Representatives lobbied at the Capitol last Thursday, they took time to ask that legislators seek provisions for a Violence Prevention Specialist on each system campus.

Jacob Schimmel, president of the UW-La Crosse Student Association, said these provisions could include asking that money is set aside for these positions in the biennial budget or other legislation.

“We've been promoting the idea of providing confidential Violence Prevention Specialists at UW System campuses since last fall,” said Graham Pearce, president of the UW System Student Representatives. “This idea came as a response to hearing from a number of student governments about how students at their campuses don't feel that survivors of sexual or dating violence have enough accessible resources to get confidential help and advice.”

At UW-La Crosse, this position acts as a counselor and advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and is not bound to report a disclosure to officials.

“At too many campuses there aren't many outlets for them to go because if they go to faculty there’s gonna be an investigation, if they go to an RA that’s gonna be an investigation because they're both mandatory reporters,” Schimmel said. “This is really a safe outlet for people to go to [which] also functions as somebody to walk them through the entire process if they decide they want to proceed.”

State Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, was one of the legislators who expressed interest in supporting the initiative.

Billings, who has two children in college and is close with her campus in La Crosse, said she had considered this topic prior to her meeting with UW Student Representatives. She added that students asking for this initiative is a good indicator it would be received favorably.

UW-Madison has had violence prevention staff since 1998. According to Carmen Juniper Neimeko, a manager for the Violence Prevention and Victim Advocacy program through University Health Services, the staff mostly work to develop programs for prevention and student engagement and education. It was not until 2014 they had a direct role in survivor support.

“Having good infrastructure for your campus and specifically dedicated and trained professional staff does tend to both show commitment and have an impact on how survivors feel supported and how student have the tools to prevent the violence,” said Juniper Neimeko.

She said that through the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault they have been able to network with staff who work in a similar capacity across the state, some schools like UW-La Crosse and UW-Madison have a paid position on campus and others support a non-profit that fulfills that role.

Billing’s office is currently beginning a “research phase,” examining how other campuses use this position and what legislation other states have. While she acknowledged that universities want to highlight the positive aspects of their schools, she said violence happens on campuses and she wants to help.

“I understand that, but this isn’t an issue that should be swept under the rug,” Billings said. “It should be addressed and if someone is in that situation, there should be someone there to help them and walk them through what's next; being respectful to the person who has suffered from assault and being an advocate.”

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