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Students hold candlelight vigil, discuss rape issues

October 19, 2007

Students gathered in the University Center Tuesday for a candlelight vigil in support of the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims bill (AB 377/SB 129).

A large group of students from a variety of backgrounds got together to listen to local sexual assault survivor advocates, health care providers and elected officials speak, read fact sheets, wear stickers and hold candles during a moment of silence.

The point of the evening was to do outreach and education about the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims bill, which would require emergency rooms in Wisconsin to provide rape victims with information about and access to emergency contraception, as only 30 percent do currently.

Reverend Yvonne Wilken, a member of Journey House Campus Ministry, opened the vigil with a universal prayer calling for compassion among all people. She stressed the importance of gathering in support of worthwhile causes while living in a society that often remains indifferent over important issues.

“There’s so much apathy these days,” Wilken said. “It’s nice to see people caring.”

Co-director of the Student Senate Diversity and Women’s Initiatives Committee Amy Bohrer spoke as well, stating she was proud that Student Senate chose to support “such a worthy cause.” 

“It gives women freedom and peace of mind,” Bohrer said. “It’s all about giving awareness to victims that do find themselves in that situation.”

Alena Taylor, local Turningpoint volunteer, spoke about the traumatic effects of rape and why immediate and thorough treatment is necessary to the healing process as well as to the effectiveness of emergency contraception, which must be taken within five days after unprotected or unintended intercourse to be most beneficial.

“After an event as traumatic as rape, survivors are often shameful…panicky…some don’t want others to know what happened to them or don’t even know about emergency contraception at all,” Taylor said. “That’s why we need to provide victims with as many options and as much information as possible.”

Kristi Pavek, a registered nurse for the local Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), reinforced the theme of the night by educating attendees about emergency contraception itself.

The evening was closed by lighting candles and observing a moment of silence. Those in attendance were encouraged to take further action by signing petitions, talking to their friends and contacting representatives, as a vote could be in the very near future.

The bill passed the Senate with wide bipartisan support but then stalled in the Assembly, waiting for a judiciary hearing. Now, it’s just waiting for a floor vote, which could take place as soon as Oct. 23.

Overall, the vigil “came up with a lot of support,” Nikki Shonoiki, director of Diversity and Women’s Initiatives committee, said. This was despite some trepidation upon its introduction to Senate, Shonoiki said.

A call to the State Elections Board as well as speaking with numerous campus officials ended with the vigil being “given an okay,” Shonoiki said. United Council worked with NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin to bring the vigil to campus; NARAL being a member of the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Coalition, which includes such organizations as Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc., Wisconsin’s Medical Examining Board and the Wisconsin Sheriff’s and Deputy Sheriff’s Association. NARAL is a strictly nonpartisan group and only wishes to enhance support for the bill, NARAL coordinator Carmen Marg-Patton said.

“We want to do our part to put pressure on representatives to vote in a compassionate way about the Compassionate Care bill,” Marg-Patton said.

More than 25 students showed their support by attending the vigil.

“A lot of people believe this is a really good cause,” Shonoiki said. 

Good cause or not, there was still concern about how the event could be construed as far as partisan beliefs go.

College Republicans co-chair Nick Carow expressed concern over the event’s political connotations during the very first Senate meeting in which the motion to fund the vigil was introduced. His concern reflected the involvement of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin.

“As a Republican, I find nothing wrong with the bill itself,” Carow said. “But there is concern that NARAL uses these events as a proxy war…to further other goals.”
First Year senator Matthew Northway agreed, explaining that he found nothing wrong with supporting the bill.

“I support the bill…I’ve read it and I agree with it,” Northway said. “But due to my beliefs, I can’t work with NARAL because I don’t agree with it [as an organization].”

Despite these concerns over political affiliations, all were agreed that compassionate care for victims of rape should be a high priority where legislation is involved, especially when it is so vital to the healing process.

“Rape is all about taking control from victims,” Bohrer said. “Emergency contraception is what gives that control back.”