Berquam: UW-Madison strives to assist sexual assault survivors

Feb. 25, 2010

Members of the UW-Madison community,

In coming days, there will be a great deal of media and online coverage of sexual assault in our community and around the UW System.

Reading these stories reminds us of the importance of the work we are doing to try to prevent these horrible acts, to respond in victim-centered ways and to seek accountability from those who would perpetrate them.

Sexual assault, dating violence and stalking are serious public health concerns that impact both individual survivors and our larger campus.  We know victims experience painful barriers to academic success, lower graduation rates, social isolation, and ongoing medical and mental health issues.

We respect the confidentiality of survivors and will not respond in detail to their personal feelings and experiences, but we strongly believe in both the dedication of our caring staff and the transparency of our campus processes.

We are deeply sorry that the women identified in these stories were assaulted and then experienced challenges in obtaining assistance that they sought. It is my sincere wish that other survivors know that the campus cares about these issues and hopes to meet their needs, wherever they choose to seek help.

There are many options and resources for those who have experienced a sexual assault, including the Offices of the Dean of Students (ODOS), University Health Services (UHS), University Housing staff, University of Wisconsin Police Department (UWPD), the Rape Crisis Center (RCC), Meriter Hospital’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program, our faculty, staff, or friends and peers.

We know that the first person a survivor tells has a key role in her or his ability to trust other providers and heal.  This may be in the form of a free, confidential service provider, like the Rape Crisis Center, or a university official who can provide assistance in securing immediate safety.  

Disclosures to university officials are collected and reported without victim names on an annual basis. A complete list of options and resources available on the UW-Madison campus can be found here, http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/docs/SARVBro906.pdf (PDF).

A complete set of UW System statistics about this issue is available at http://www.uwsa.edu/acss/sexualviolence/resources.htm.

Should a victim decide to come forward to report a sexual assault to a university official, our bedrock principal is that her or his safety and wishes are honored throughout the process.

I am fortunate enough to have a staff of committed professionals who are deeply experienced and trained to provide assistance on behalf of victims.

If requested, we will provide a full range of services that encompasses everything from working with professors for academic accommodations to initiating a judicial or police investigation in an effort to hold perpetrators accountable. We are also charged with protecting the rights of the accused through a thorough judicial investigation and fair hearing process.

In addition to responding to these acts, our campus is actively seeking ways to collaborate to prevent them.

Recently, UW-Madison was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.  This grant, known as Ending Violence on Campus (EVOC), is specifically designed to address sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.  

It is my firm belief that college campuses have a responsibility to respond appropriately and respectfully to student survivors, as well as to create attitude and policy changes that diminish tolerance for violence women and the men who experience these crimes.

That said, administrative solutions alone are not the only answer.

As I have in the past, I again challenge the members of our community to become engaged in developing solutions by becoming involved in student organizations such as Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE), participating in activities of April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and getting in contact with my office or any of the EVOC partners with your ideas about how we can fill current gaps in our efforts.

It is our ultimate goal to create a safe and respectful campus community, free from sexual and dating violence.

If you would like to report a sexual assault, have questions or comments, I encourage you to contact us at (608) 263-5700, dean@odos.wisc.edu, or learn more at www.uhs.wisc.edu/assault.

Lori Berquam, Dean of Students