National task force focuses on sexual assault on college campuses

UW provides information on sexual assault, resources to students, parents
National task force focuses on sexual assault on college campuses
UW-Madison police Chief Susan Riseling

The phone at the Rape Crisis Center in Madison rings about 2,000 times a year from victims seeking help. Kelly Anderson, the center’s director, knows there are many victims out there who never call.

“There’s an assumption that sexual assaults get reported. Nationally only somewhere between 10 and 40 percent of sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement. So 60 to 90 percent of victims of sexual violence never report to law enforcement. On college campuses, it is a very low reporting rate,” Anderson said.

In an effort to address that problem, the White House has created a task force, which includes a website. The website provides information and resources for victims of sexual assault. The task force is also encouraging colleges and universities to provide resources and support for victims.

That is something the University of Wisconsin-Madison is already doing. The university provides information about sexual assault and resources for victims to all first-year students and their parents. They also have a one-hour online program about sexual assault that is available for first-year students to take before arriving on campus.

While the university has been proactive in dealing with the problem, UW-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling believes more can be done.

“The UW is clearly on board and whatever we aren’t doing we will begin to do and obviously look at our policies and make sure things are best practices and not just in place but the best in the country,” Riseling said. “I also think we need to try to figure out how to communicate effectively with young women and young men, the young women to tell us when something terrible happens to them and the young men to understand that no means no and the absence of consent is not consent.”

Anderson hopes the efforts by the White House will push all universities to encourage victims of sexual assault to report the crimes. She said some colleges and universities with statistics showing a low incident of sexual assaults are simply not doing enough to encourage reporting.

“The pressure is that the small college that only gets a few reports a year and manages to bury this is going to look better statistically and safer statistically than the university that really engages with the issue and is trying to address it and trying to create a safe campus. So I think it is a real Catch-22 and I respect the universities like UW that chose to do the right thing,” Anderson said.

The phone number for the Rape Crisis Center in Madison is 608-251-RAPE.