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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Cardinal View: Sexual assault resources need greater funding

It’s long overdue for the university to make adequate investments in survivor and mental health services.

Content warning: Mentions of sexual assault, harrassment.

In recent months, The Daily Cardinal has reported on a spate of sexual assaults. These assaults all took place on university grounds and they reveal a larger truth: the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. 

The 2019 American Association of Universities survey reported that 26.1% of undergraduate women at the University of Wisconsin-Madison experience some form of assault. Most cases of assault do not undergo formal investigation. The university received 139 claims of sexual assault or violence from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, and only 15 of these claims were formally investigated. This means a large portion of cases tend to be handled using other supporting mechanisms. Considering this heavy reliance on such systems, one might think that they must receive greater funding. Right?

A major supporting mechanism in place for victims is UHS Survivor Services. Survivor Services is designed to provide victims of assault threefold support: advocacy, mental health and medical. Advocacy services involve non-clinical support for victims, mental health services involve therapy involving handling trauma and medical services involve forensic exams and handling pregnancy and infection related concerns. 

This triad forms a robust set of resources for a victim. However, Survivor Services lacks adequate funding. Three months ago, the UW-Madison chapter of Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE-UW) made a petition demanding greater funding. The petition outlines how understaffed the program is under current funding. PAVE-UW also emphasizes the importance of greater funding. By their estimation, increased funding would make the services more accessible. This, in turn, would help more people heal. 

In addition to making firm demands of the university, PAVE-UW acts as a major support mechanism in itself. A student organization, it gets funding from the General Student Service Fund which is allocated from segregated fees paid by students each semester. This fund is run by the Student Services Finance Committee. However, the funds allocated to PAVE-UW declined from Fiscal Year 2018 to Fiscal Year 2020, coinciding with a general decline in the student service fund. This drop in funding is ill-conceived, as PAVE-UW plays an integral role in campus-wide awareness. PAVE-UW runs several comprehensive workshops that work towards awareness. This is crucial both for preventing assaults and ensuring victims get connected to the right resources. 

Much of this speaks to the prevalence of rape culture in our society. For us to accept that it's okay to continually neglect and defund survivor resources suggests our complicity of sexual assault in our society. 

It is the duty of this university to provide resources that support all of its students, which is something it has neglected to do before. Calls for increased mental health spending aren’t new, either. For years, students have lobbied the university to increase its spending on these critical services essential for student success.

For the 2020-21 academic year, UW Madison had a $528.5 million budget for its Auxiliary Fund. This fund accounts for services that the university provides to the campus or general public. The biggest chunk of this fund goes to University Housing and Intercollegiate Athletics — 23% and 22% respectively. Also included in this fund is UHS, which only receives 6% of these auxiliary funds. 

According to the budget report, “Most auxiliary units are entirely supported by the funds they themselves generate and collect.” 

UW-Madison readily invests money into programs that can thrive on their own, but fails to do so for a program lumped in the same category as athletics, expecting it to fend for itself.  

UHS only accounts for 1% of the university's total budget. The above report listed the universities total budget at $3.34 billion for the 2019-20 fiscal year. This year, that budget nearly doubled to $6.56 billion. With this increased budget, UW-Madison must increase its investment in services offered to students in order to improve campus safety and health.

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