AAU survey highlights need for continued action against sexual violence, misconduct

Sexual assault and misconduct remain serious problems on every campus across the country. Ensuring the safety of our students is a fundamental priority for all of us at UW–Madison.

Today our university released results from the 2019 American Association of Universities survey on sexual assault and misconduct. When our university participated in this survey in 2015, it was a first-of-its-kind effort nationally.

The results from 2015 led to the campus investing in a number of new and enhanced programs. These included hiring of additional staff in the Title IX Office and University Health Services; mandatory prevention training for all faculty, staff and graduate students; and additional in-person mandatory education for undergraduate students.

Surveys like this one are a critical tool for assessing and improving our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence and to support all survivors.

I am deeply grateful to the students who took the time to share their experiences, understanding how difficult that can be. Your courage and honesty will help our campus become a safer and more supportive environment. To those students from communities that are disproportionately affected, including LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities, I want to let you know that we hear you and are committed to supporting you.

It is encouraging to see that in comparing our 2019 survey results to 2015, both undergraduate and graduate students report significantly higher levels of knowledge about sexual assault and campus resources; the levels of knowledge at UW-Madison are also higher than at other universities.

Another positive development is that most students who see concerning behavior report taking some action to prevent further harm. Student involvement is essential in both preventing assault and misconduct and supporting survivors.

Rates of sexual assault at UW-Madison remain similar to other universities. While rates of sexual assault for undergraduate women rose between 2015 and 2019 for other AAU institutions, there was no significant change at UW-Madison. However, our numbers remain distressingly high – and even a single incidence of sexual assault is too many.  In 2019, 26.1 percent of undergraduate women at UW-Madison reported having experienced some form of sexual assault; 11 percent reported experiencing assault by penetration.

Going forward, we must strengthen our efforts to reduce these rates and to increase the number of students who seek campus support after experiencing assault or misconduct. Currently 87 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported to any campus resource, even including confidential resources. This means that students are not able to access critical support such as mental health services and academic accommodations.

As we did in 2015, we will be using the 2019 survey results to refine campus policies and programs. I urge students, faculty and staff to attend campus forums in November to share your feedback, questions and concerns.

Reducing sexual violence at UW will require changes in behavior and culture as well as in resources and the campus environment. All of us need to understand the importance of consent, watch for warning signs and be willing to intervene.

We are committed to doing all we can to ensure a safe living and learning environment for all of our students. When sexual assault occurs, we will respond swiftly and with compassion, providing resources and support. Together, we can reduce sexual violence.