UW-Madison enhances efforts to combat sexual assault

January 26, 2016

Sexual violence and the university’s response to it remains a topic of concern on our campus and others across the country. We want to share several important updates with the campus community.

You may have seen reports that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating complaints from three UW–Madison students about how their sexual violence allegations were handled.

We want our processes to be as equitable as they can possibly be. Our approach is based on the guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education. We welcome OCR’s independent review as an opportunity to improve. There are now hundreds of complaints involving universities large and small, across the entire country. The number of investigations has risen significantly as the federal government puts more resources into responding to sexual violence.

Sexual violence harms not only victims, but the entire campus community, and our offices are here to support student health, safety and well-being.  We understand that the more we encourage students to report sexual violence and the more cases that go through the disciplinary system, the greater the likelihood that one or both parties will not be satisfied with the outcome. These are complex cases and facts can be difficult to establish.

We continue to firmly believe that encouraging reporting is the right thing to do, to bring this problem out of the shadows and begin to address it as a community. Not only do we urge students to report to us, we provide information so they may contact OCR if they’re not satisfied with the outcome of a campus judicial process.

Given the sensitivity of these issues, we know we will hear criticism of how we handle these cases. However, any suggestion that the university is uncaring in its approach to our students is false. We are proud of the many staff, students and faculty at UW–Madison who devote time and energy to preventing sexual assault, supporting survivors and investigating reports in an attempt to hold perpetrators accountable. This includes staff in Student Life, University Health Services, University Housing, the Office of Compliance and the University of Wisconsin Police Department as well as volunteers with groups such as PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment) and the Student Title IX Advisory Committee.

Our approach to sexual violence is transparent, data-driven and constantly being improved as best practices in this area evolve. This year alone, UW–Madison took part in a landmark national survey that’s leading to a host of changes across campus – in residence halls, among graduate students, in Greek Life, and elsewhere. This includes additional prevention programs for students, expanded advocacy services for survivors and a focus on reducing the number of perpetrators. We want to give special recognition to the students who are helping conceive and implement these changes – their hard work is making our campus community better and safer.

We agree with those who say that universities should foster a dialogue about policies and procedures for combatting sexual assault. Through the EVOC (End Violence on Campus) Coordinating Council, we seek insight from 20 campus and community partners on sexual violence, domestic violence and related issues. Through the Student Title IX Advisory Committee, we work with students on ways to improve policies and procedures, including the disciplinary process. And through open forums on campus over the past year, we’ve gathered valuable feedback both on changes to Chapter 17, the state code governing student misconduct within the UW System, and on sexual violence issues in general.

We also encourage you to contact us directly: Call 608-263-5700 or email dean@studentlife.wisc.edu. David Blom, our campus Title IX coordinator, can be reached at dblom@wisc.edu or 608-890-3788. We want this campus to be a place where every student can thrive. Please let us know how we’re doing and where we can get better.

Finally, please be aware that help and resources are available to anyone experiencing sexual violence, regardless of whether they wish to pursue a complaint through the university disciplinary process or the criminal justice system. For more information, visit http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/assault/sa-resources.shtml.

 

Lori Berquam, Dean of Students and Vice Provost for Student Life

Chief Susan Riseling, University of Wisconsin Police Department

Sarah Van Orman, M.D., Executive Director, University Health Services