Content warning: This article mentions rape and sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted and is seeking help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-4673.
As Thanksgiving break nears, so does the end of the “red zone,” the period of time at the beginning of the fall semester in which campus sexual assaults are most common.
While different campuses have different time periods classified as the red zone, the common consensus is that students are most vulnerable to sexual assault in the first weeks or months of the academic year. A 2007 study found students — specifically female freshmen — experience more unwanted sexual advances between August and November than at any other part of the year.
The Center for Women and Families similarly reports that more than 50% of campus sexual assaults occur in these first four months.
During their time on campus, about one in six students at UW-Madison will experience sexual assault, according to Director of Survivor Services Dr. Molly Caradonna. Most students will know someone who has experienced sexual assault or rape, Caradonna added.
UW-Madison requires all first-year students, whether they are undergraduates, transfers or graduates, to complete violence prevention programming prior to coming to campus as part of the university’s education and prevention measures.
“We know that sexual assault is not only a concern for first-year undergraduate students but for all students on campus,” Caradonna said in a statement to The Daily Cardinal. “Reinforcing strategies for raising awareness, normalizing consent and promoting bystander intervention help promote a safer campus community.”
In the aftermath of a traumatizing event, however, many victims may be hesitant to report an assault or may not know who to turn to. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, more than 90% of campus sexual assaults will go unreported.
The stigma surrounding campus sexual assault is a major force behind this reticence that often leaves students forced to cope on their own. But the university, as well as other Dane County-area organizations offer resources and paths for survivors to take.
Caradonna’s Survivor Services exists within University Health Services (UHS) and is committed to supporting students who are victims of sexual violence, domestic violence, exploitation or stalking.
UHS offers medical services to students on the fifth and sixth floor of 333 E. Campus Mall, including injury treatment, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, HIV testing and counseling, and screening and treatment of other STIs.
UHS also offers forensic exams on the sixth floor through Dane County Multi-Agency Center (DaneMAC), a local organization that supports Dane County victims of gender-based violence.
Forensic exams, which include sexual assault evidence kits — often called “rape kits” — are performed to collect DNA evidence after an assault has occurred.
Currently, there is a bill under consideration in the Wisconsin Legislature that aims to quicken processing times for these kits. If passed, the bill intends to generate faster results and expedite the process of taking legal action against a perpetrator of gender-based violence.
Founded by nurse practitioner Kim Curran and lawyer Rachel Sattler, DaneMAC seeks to serve survivors and consolidate resources so that survivors are not required to relive their trauma more times than necessary to get help. DaneMAC offers forensic exams to students and works with local service providers to streamline the process of recovery and possible formal actions after an assault.
“Forensic care provides me the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life during a traumatic time,” reads Curran’s profile on the DaneMAC website. “The exam is a moment to give control back to a survivor."
If a survivor wishes to take formal or legal action, it will become a non-confidential resource.
With confidential sources, the name of a survivor will not be recorded. Crisis phone lines, the RCC and UHS Survivor Services are all included under this umbrella.
Non-confidential sources often include more formal ways of reporting, such as speaking to law enforcement or the school’s Title IX coordinator. UHS Survivor Services offers advocacy for students who choose to formally report their assault and can send staff to support students through the reporting process.
“While deciding to report to law enforcement or the university is always the choice of each victim/survivor,” Caradonna said in a statement, “we continue our work with campus and community partners to make these reporting processes accessible, transparent and trauma-informed.”
Annika Bereny is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state news and politics reporting. Follow her on Twitter at @annikabereny.