Me Too. These two small words, coined by Tarana Burke in 2006 and brought into the public sphere nearly a year ago by actress Alyssa Milano on Twitter, have since sparked a widespread campaign for women’s rights.
In the days following the first post, 24,722 people tweeted the hashtag. A year later, sexual assault is still a prominent topic at UW-Madison, where 1 in 4 women report being sexually assaulted during college.
On the same day as Milano’s tweet, an anonymous female college student reported being sexually assaulted at a house on Langdon Street. The investigation that followed was one of 11 sexual assault investigations at UW-Madison in 2017. The assault was one of 318 reported in that year, according to the UW Division of Student Life.
Total sexual assaults reported on campus increased since 2011. Though the increase means more assaults are occurring, it also means students feel an increased level of comfort in coming forward.
“There are many reasons why survivors may not feel it’s safe, emotionally and/or physically, to speak out about or report what’s happened,” University Health Services Violence Prevention Manager Molly Zemke said.
60 percent of UW-Madison students said they believed it is very unlikely that a student making a report would be supported by other students, according to a Campus Climate Survey administered by the American Association of Universities in 2015. More than 70 percent of students said it is very unlikely a report would be taken seriously by campus officials.
But the #MeToo movement has changed the conversation, according to UW-Madison students.
“I know so many women, and even some men, that opened up about their experiences by posting about the #MeToo movement,” UW-Madison senior Naomi Venezia said. “It really fueled discussion and made it a more visible topic.”
Venezia has been an outspoken advocate of sexual assault prevention, leading campus support group K(No)W More in which women on campus, many of whom are involved with Greek life, share their stories.
A disproportionate number of sexual assaults take place in fraternities, according to UW-Madison Title IX Coordinator Lauren Hasselbacher. Fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than their non-greek counterparts.
Greek life encourages a hookup culture, according to Venezia. Women attending fraternity formals often go with their dates and stay overnight in a hotel, often in the same bed as their date, she explained.
“This sets up expectations of how the night should end,” Venezia said.“I think the hookup culture has a very strong influence on our behaviors and social life when it comes to interactions with the opposite genders.”
A UW-Madison Bias Incident Report details an event from October 2016 in which the chapter of Sigma Chi chanted the following lyrics:
“He once lined 100 girls up against the wall, and bet a Beta $10 he could fuck ‘em all.
He fucked 98 till his balls turned blue, then he backed off, jacked off and fucked the other two.”
The Committee on Student Organizations ruled Sigma Chi was not in violation of Code 11 which outlines activity that “humiliates, degrades, abuses, endangers, sexually violates, causes emotional and/or physical harm or requires a person to give up personal liberty regardless of the person's willingness to participate.”
A CSO report from 2016 details the account of an anonymous individual who heard 80 to 90 Alpha Epsilon Phi girls singing from the basement of Sigma Alpha Mu:
“They roll me over and lift up my dress, now that I’m in AEPHI I will always say yes.”
The women of Alpha Epsilon Phi were put on probation, while the fraternity house where the song took place, Sigma Alpha Mu, saw no consequences.
Though the #MeToo Movement has revealed sexual assault is a real problem, some universities still lack certain training to decrease assault rates.
30 percent of institutions in the national sample do not provide any sexual assault training for students, let alone focused training for areas of higher risk, stated a U.S. Senate report on sexual assault.
22 percent of schools in the survey provide sexual violence training targeted at the Greek system, and 37 percent provide training specifically for student athletes. These numbers increase significantly for schools involved in Division I athletics, where 64 percent of schools target training at the Greek system and 82 percent target training for student athletes.
Despite these trainings, assaults by athletes happen. This past August, two women reported they were assaulted by Quintez Cephus, a wide receiver for the Badgers. Cephus is being charged with second- and third-degree sexual assault for an incident that occurred this past April, in which the women said they were unable to give consent.
One of the women reported to police that she wasn’t sure how it happened, but she and her friend were naked and Cephus was assaulting them. The other woman, in an interview with police, said after drinking at the Double U she was so intoxicated she didn’t remember being introduced to Cephus.
“UW-Madison views allegations of sexual violence with deep concern,” Hasselbacher said in response to Cephus’ allegations. “We responded following our standard practices, which include providing reporting and support resources to anyone who has reported experiencing sexual misconduct.”
Additionally, UW-Madison continually ranks high in college towns and student bodies with high alcohol consumption and binge drinking, which is the leading predatory drug used in sexual assaults on college campuses, according to UW-Madison’s Alcohol-Facilitated Sexual Assault briefing document.
“We know from research that alcohol consumption does correlate with sexual assault, both for perpetrators and those they victimize,” Hasselbacher said. “And of course, if someone is incapacitated due to alcohol, that person is not able to consent.”
UW-Madison requires training for all registered student organizations, not just Greek life and athletics. The program, called “Badgers Step Up!” focuses on leadership development, bystander intervention, alcohol education, resources and UW-Madison policies related to alcohol.
In the spirit of the #MeToo movement, the UHS website reads, “To the survivors on our campus, we see you, we support you, and we are here for you. Help is available.”
UHS programs like GetWise, ActWise and U Got This! aim to further raise awareness on campus.
“Increased awareness of the prevalence and impact of sexual violence is critical in shifting people’s attitudes and behaviors, which can provide the public support often needed to produce policy change,” Zemke said.
The #MeToo movement and discussions about sexual assault have been reignited in light of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Hundreds of students and Madison community members gathered last Thursday to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation and show support for Ford, many carrying signs that read “#MeToo.”
“Sexual assault is an epidemic here on campus,” said student protester Dannira Kulenovic, “It’s not just the Supreme Court nomination, it’s our community.”
As the #MeToo movement has grown throughout the nation, students have become more vocal about their experiences with sexual violence. UW-Madison will administer a survey asking about sexual violence in the spring.
“Sexual assault survivors all have one thing in common: we all are still here, standing strong and now breaking the silence,” Venezia said. “It is 2018, we need to say no more to one in four.”
Infographics by Channing Smith and Photo by Dana Brandt