February 28, 2010

Suffering in silence: Campus sexual assaults vastly underreported

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University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Abby Panozzo says she was raped at an off-campus party in 2006. Read her story and hear her account in her own words by clicking the photo. WCIJ/Andy Hall

At University of Wisconsin campuses, sexual assaults remain seriously underreported and many women still face barriers to notifying authorities. Most victims do not report crimes. The statistics are inconsistent. And most rapists go free.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism today launches Suffering in Silence: Sexual Assaults at the University of Wisconsin, an investigation that examines how UW is tackling sexual assaults on its 13 four-year campuses. The multimedia project, which includes audio clips and a searchable database of campus reports, is the result of dozens of interviews the Center’s reporters conducted with rape victims, UW officials, advocates, researchers and others.

Reactions to the investigation began even before the stories were published. As a result of our reporting, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the UW System acknowledged its annual summary of sexual assaults — required by the Legislature — should be more accessible and posted it on a new Web page. Two days later, UW-Madison Dean of Students Lori Berquam issued a statement saying that “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.”

Berquam added, “We are deeply sorry that the women identified in these stories were assaulted and then experienced challenges in obtaining assistance that they sought.”

The Center produced this investigation with support and collaboration from the Center for Public Integrity, and published it in coordination with other reports on campus assaults from colleagues in the Investigative News Network.

The links that follow will send you to the separate site we’ve created for this project. We invite you to share your reactions with us by posting comments on the stories or by writing to Andy Hall, the Center’s executive director, at ahall@wisconsinwatch.org.

MAIN STORY
Suffering in silence: Campus sexual assaults underreported

At UW campuses, estimated rapes outnumber reports by a margin of 17-1. That means nearly all rapists go unpunished, whether by schools or the criminal justice system. Victims tell us how tough the system is on them, and why they don’t want to file reports.

SIDEBAR: THE STATS
Data draw murky picture of sexual assaults on Wisconsin campuses

No one contests that campus sexual assaults are underreported. But even nailing down how many are reported at a campus is a challenge. At UW-Madison in 2008, either one, five, eight or 44 sexual assaults were reported — depending on which report you consult.

SIDEBAR: UW’S DISCIPLINARY SYSTEM
How will recent changes affect rapists and rape victims?

In a controversial move, the University of Wisconsin System last fall revised its campus conduct code. Some experts say the changes could make it easier to punish rapists, while others worry that one change could intimidate victims.

SIDEBAR: PROMISING PRACTICES
Teaching students to intervene in acquaintance rape

Rape whistles are out, and there’s evidence some campuses are tailoring prevention programs to the most recent research on college rapes. Given the vast underreporting, it may seem like there are countless rapists out there. In reality, a small minority of men — undetected serial rapists — perpetrate many of the crimes. New “bystander intervention” programs aim to teach students to identify and prevent predatory behavior.

2 thoughts on “Suffering in silence: Campus sexual assaults vastly underreported

  1. Pingback: Students and Schools Speaking Up, Taking Action | Change Happens: The SAFER Blog

  2. Pingback: Sexual assault reports decline as victims seeking services rise | WisconsinWatch.org

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