What to make of these sexual assault reports

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I meant to post on this yesterday in conjunction with the story run by the Herald (which should have been featured more prominently online), but I am currently without a laptop. There is so much to cover here, but I think 4 specific things deserve mention.

1. As Jack mentioned yesterday, the report cited included some disquieting statistics on the disparity between occurrences of actual rape, and actual reports filed. These stats are outrageous, and the barriers faced by victims which can be controlled need to be addressed.

The estimated number of rapes outnumbers reports of sexual assaults on UW System campuses and at the flagship UW-Madison by a margin of 17-1. With reporting levels so low, nearly all rapists go unpunished, whether by schools or the criminal justice system.

2. Sexual Assault is a much bigger problem than almost everyone thinks. In fact, based on these numbers, it is probably the single greatest threat to a womans safety while on campus.

How many rapes or attempted rapes are occurring on Wisconsin campuses?

National surveys of college women are the most accurate way to estimate campus rape, researchers say. An oft-cited federal National Institute of Justice study in 2000 estimated 35 rapes per 1,000 students each academic year.

At a school the size of UW-Madison, with about 21,600 women in 2008, national statistics suggest there could be 750 rapes or attempted rapes a year.

3. Victims of sexual assault are no more dishonest than any other victim. Fact.

Research suggests rapes are no more likely to be falsely reported than any other crime. Yet advocates say a cultural double standard creates a powerful barrier to reporting.

4. Lori Berquam: You f*cked up!

In her response to the article release by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Lori Berquam neither mentions, nor acknowledges any of these obvious points. No promises of reform, or emphasis on recent changes, or even an acknowledgement of just how much of a problem this is (she calls sexual assault a “public health concern”), just a pat on the back and an exercise in self-preservation of her bureaucracy.

Kudos to the Herald for running the article, even if it wasn’t crafted by their writers.

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4 Responses to “What to make of these sexual assault reports”

  1. Jack Says:

    I wouldn’t say that Alec. I guarantee you Lori Berquam cares deeply about the issue. What reform could be promised? Do we know that the stats at Wisconsin are much worse than at any other college? I think the point of the report was to display a nation-wide phenomenon by showing its effects at the local or state level.

  2. Bryan Says:

    Singling out Ms. Berquam in this fashion seems misplaced. I agree with commenter “Jack” that Berquam cares deeply about student safety, especially women’s safety with regard to rape. You make a fine summary with points 1, 2 and 3, but your decent into name calling and exclusive finger pointing undermines your arguments. Declaring that “so-and-so f*cked up” is a quick way to have your opinion dismissed and your own voice ignored. You’re a good writer with fair opinions. I think you can do better than that…

    • Alec S Says:

      My criticism was of Ms. Berquam’s response which was featured on the wisc website last week, it wasn’t an attempt to solely blame her for this widespread problem. In that response, Berquam puts the problem of sexual assault on par with any other “public health concern” and emphasizes her support of the status quo at UW. Both I think are disappointing and ignorant responses to the information presented in the reports.

      Reforms have recently been undertaken at some UW schools, even here, and there are plenty more options out there. That should have at least been mentioned. In her response it seemed as if she took nothing from these reports.

      The “you f*cked up” line was a reference to the common chant at football games. It was probably naive of me to think it would be picked up as such.

  3. Bryan Says:

    Fair enough. I don’t disagree with your concerns, and point taken about the use of your expletive phrase (though, yes, that’s a very vague connection your expecting your audience to make).

    I’m not sure, however, that calling something a “public health concern” is somehow minimizing it’s significance. What term would you use, if not calling the problem of rape on college campuses a “public health concern?” H1N1 flu, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, etc. are often referred to as a public health issue because of pervasive and inherent risk to everyone. Maybe public health “crisis” or “epidemic”?

    I guess I didn’t feel like the Berquam news release was minimizing the issue or trying to explain away the efforts that the university is already making. If you feel more should be done on the university’s behalf, then you should write about that, as that would be interesting and would carry your piece beyond complaint by suggesting solutions. As a reader, I’m left wondering what more you want done.

    Note: I hope my comment isn’t perceived as a personal criticism. I appreciate your writing and your effort to engage this topic.

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