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Sunday, June 16, 2024

UW survivors of sexual violence would see increased support under new bill

As sexual assault rates rise at universities statewide, state Democrats are circulating a bill for introduction to expand resources available to victims of sexual violence at UW-System universities.

Proposed by state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and state Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, the bill would provide no-cost options for academic, housing and campus escort arrangements to all UW students who are victims of sexual violence, harassment, stalking or domestic abuse.

“We must make sure that victims of sexual violence and harassment are in no way penalized and are reasonably accommodated by their campus community,” Taylor said in a press release. “We need to do everything we can to assist survivors in completing their education and pursuing their dreams.”

Influenced by a 44 percent increase of on-campus assaults since 2013, the legislation would require UW-System schools to notify all victims of these options upon report of assault regardless of if the student pursues a formal investigation.

In 2015, UW-Madison participated in a survey by the Association of American Universities that concluded that one in four women on campus have been victims of sexual violence.

"Things we’ve done include hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator, hiring additional victim advocates, improving training for staff who may be contacted by survivors, requiring (sexual assault) education for graduate and professional students, and requiring additional sexual assault education for all incoming undergraduate students,” said UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio.

Despite administrative action, including a requirement that first-year students complete an online sexual assault prevention program, there were 325 reports of sexual assault on campus in 2016, marking a continued increase in reported cases.

However, Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment communications coordinator, Shay Jens, stated that an increase in reports does not necessarily equate to an increase in assault. Rather, a shift in campus climate has made more students feel comfortable coming forward.

“I also believe that the increasing amount of discussions surrounding sexual assault on college campuses is helping individuals to realize that this is a topic that deserves space in conversations and we all need to have a part in preventing and discussing sexual violence,” Jens said. “I think the UW has done a nice job of providing services and resources for survivors of assault and, while there's room for improvement, it’s off to a good start.”

According to Jens, while UW-Madison has a growing number of resources for survivors, this bill would especially benefit smaller UW System schools, who historically have less support to offer.

"Sexual violence on college campuses has been a serious and pervasive issue," Schachtner told The Daily Cardinal. "With the rise of the #MeToo movement, I felt that the momentum was on our side to empower students who are victims with the support they need to overcome trauma and achieve their educational aspirations." 

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