Over a quarter of undergrad women on the UW-Madison campus experienced sexual assault during their time at school. That’s according to a survey released this spring, as part of a 33 college study by the Association of American Universities.
The findings have just been released this week.
The survey shows that compared to four years ago, students across the country are more informed about the risks of sexual assault and the resources that their schools offer. But rates of non-consensual sex still increased by three percent across the thirty three colleges and universities measured in the study
At UW-Madison the rate of sexual assault didn’t shift significantly from four years ago. The UW was one of the 15 schools that participated in both the survey conducted this year and one conducted four years ago.
Jake Baggott is the Executive Director of University Health Services, the student health service center, at UW-Madison. He says that UW-Madison joined the survey hoping to identify the scope of the issue and how to stop it.
“That was certainly the intent, is that we do a, you know, an initial assessment, learn what we could about the issues, and then use that to help shape some of our efforts, and then continue to evaluate that periodically. And I believe the intent is to do that every 4 years, give or take,” says Baggott.
According to the study nearly half of UW-Madison students know how to report sexual assault, but reporting of assaults hasn’t actually risen.
“With the increased awareness and so forth, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see more reporting but in fact our reporting remained very similar to what it was in the previous survey, even with the increased awareness,” Baggott adds.
Lauren Hasselbacher is the Title IX coordinator for UW-Madison. She says there are a lot of reasons students don’t come forward after a sexual assault.
“Regularly students are feeling, at least initially, that the situation wasn’t serious enough to report, or they feel that they can handle it on their own. A lot of people just want to try to move on,” Hasselbacher says.
Hasselbacher says that even if students don’t report the assault right away, they are still able to report the assault and seek support services later. Students can also seek support services without formally reporting an assault.
Amanda Jovaag is the Director of Prevention and Campus Health Initiatives. She says the 2019 results compared to the 2015 results show that the problem is larger than one class of students.
“We are measuring something that is persistent here on campus. It doesn’t come and go with a new group of students. It’s something we are taking seriously, and that we need to continue to take seriously,” says Jovaag.
While the study shows that assault is still occurring at the same rate at UW-Madison, it suggests that students are able to recognize assault as it is happening and are willing to step in. Over 70 percent of students who reported witnessing assault or abusive behavior, took action.
“I think I was really hearted to see the measures of bystander behavior,” Jovaag says.
“The university has spent a lot of work in the past few years to really encourage students to take responsibility for caring for their fellow students. So to see that between two thirds and three fourths of students when they see concerning behavior are taking some action to circumvent it. I really didn’t expect to see those high of levels, so that is actually great news for us,” Jovaag adds.
There are three community forums on the UW-Madison campus planned next month to discuss the implications of the survey. UW-Madison students and employees are invited to attend and give their thoughts on the study and campus culture surrounding sexual assault.