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Monday, April 12, 2021

UW-Madison community works to reduce sexual violence on campus

On April 9, UW-Madison students received an email briefly describing a first-degree sexual assault that occurred just after 10 p.m. the previous night.

Unfortunately, the message was similar to dozens of emails sent out earlier this year.

UW-Madison participated in an Association of American Universities campus climate survey in the spring of 2015; its results were released the following fall. The findings exposed a statistic students currently know too well: One in four female undergraduate students experiences some form of sexual assault through force or incapacitation while attending UW-Madison.

The survey collected data on the most common locations where assaults occur; on-campus housing and Greek housing were the two most frequently identified.

Sam Johnson, a violence prevention specialist at the End Violence on Campus unit at University Health Services, explains prevention programs that target the two populations.

Calling upon UHS for assistance, Greek leadership became determined to fix the issue, and the Greek Sexual Assault and Gender-Based Violence Task Force was formed.

Students and some professional staff members primarily led the task force.

As the designated violence prevention office for campus, UHS served as consultants for the task force, creating a plan with six recommendations to curb gender violence issues in the Greek community.

Jimmy Benning, Psi Upsilon vice president and 2016 interfraternity council vice president of risk management, worked as one of 12 members to combat sexual assault in the Greek community.

“The task force has kind of evolved,” Benning said. “Our first priority was to figure out how to make specific trouble areas safer, but now we have a bigger team that’s more involved in implementing what we came up with.”

Benning worked with other members to present the ideas to Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who then approved them.

The first recommendation requires bystander intervention training, administered by UHS, for all new members of Greek life.

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Greek students will utilize a program called “Green Dot,” which offers a curriculum for bystander intervention. It will also be used in classrooms and other organizations.

“Rather than teaching people how to prevent their own sexual assaults or teaching how not to hurt people, this is what you as a community member, as a witness, can do to challenge and intervene,” Johnson said.

The second recommendation created a new position in Greek chapters—a safety and wellness chair. This individual will be trained by UHS and be taught to provide assistance to individuals in their Greek houses.

The Go Greek information session, which is open to all new Greek members, is commonly attended by sorority females, but prospective fraternity members rarely make appearances.

The third recommendation involves a fraternity-specific information session to emphasize many topics pertaining to assault.

“When you’re in an organization with lots of men, masculinity adds fuel to the fire,” Benning said. “There’s a lot of competition and guys coming in with misconceptions. That can be stopped with older members instilling values and telling them not to do those things.”

Accountability also plays a role by amending Greek council bylaws and defining sexual assault while emphasizing intervention.

This recommendation will likely be a component in the fifth point, which is peer-to-peer discussions that will be made mandatory for all general members.

The final part of the plan promotes chapter involvement in gender-violence prevention. It encourages that six percent of active members participate in additional organizations related to sexual assault.

Sexual assault is not exclusively a Greek community issue; it is a campuswide problem.

UW-Madison attempts to train students about the situation early on by requiring the completion of the Tonight program by all new students.

The computer program coaches students on bystander intervention techniques. Modifications are made every semester, using suggestions from student focus groups. Their biggest and latest improvement features more information on campus resources for assault witnesses and victims.

“We are planning to increase our victim advocacy service,” Johnson said. “We are becoming aware that it is a needed service and are working on hiring more people to work towards prevention.”

Along with the Tonight program and various student organizations raising awareness of sexual assault, the UW-Madison Police Department is fighting further sexual assaults on campus through highly trained officers and investigations centered on the victim’s comfortability.

UWPD’s policies support victims’ control of police investigation and move at a pace that is comfortable for the victim, according to its website.

UWPD officers also practice privacy and amnesty for drinking tickets to encourage victims to report against their assaulters and increase safety across UW-Madison.

This is a key component of their current policies after the Association of American Universities found that 23.1 percent undergraduates nationally reported an experience of nonconsensual sexual contact, while 11 percent reported that they were raped, according to a Wisconsin State Journal article.

UWPD, alongside Madison Police Department, believes the bill that gives victims of sexual assault amnesty from drinking tickets will prioritize victims’ concerns over university sanctions for underage drinking.

“We need to do all we can to encourage survivors of sexual assault to come forward to report this crime, so we can do our jobs as law enforcement to hold a perpetrator accountable,” UWPD Assistant Chief Kari Sasso said in a State Journal article.

But for any victims who are not ready to come forward to the police, UWPD and MPD do encourage them to see someone at one of the resources available through UHS or the UW campus.

Benning and Johnson both said they see a positive change in the Madison community.

According to Benning and Johnson, sexual assault is now being talked about much more freely, which is the first step to stopping the problem.

“At the end of the day when I can actually see a change with my own eyes, when people go out on the weekends and start treating people with more respect in general, I think that’s the ultimate goal,” Benning said. “People need to realize that the survivors and the perpetrators are humans. Treat them like that.”

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