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UW System, UWRF continue to add resources for sexual assault survivors

March 22, 2017

Sexual assault and violence has been an issue on college campuses for some time, but in recent years this issue has gained momentum in regards to prevention, safety and awareness.

The UW System is no different in that it takes sexual crimes seriously and provides resources and information across each campus location in the case of such instances.

UW-River Falls specifically has shown support for this issue by educating students on sexual assault during freshman orientation Week of Welcome, having brochures in the Student Health and Counseling Services office and providing students access to Pierce County Reproductive Health Services. UWRF also holds an annual It’s On Us Week of Action to promote awareness and prevention. Additionally, UWRF has a signed a contract of services (or MOU) with Turningpoint to help provide advocacy and prevention on campus.

Most of these approaches to sexual assault awareness, however, require talking to someone about the issue or being seen walking in and grabbing particular brochures, something not all survivors of sexual assault are comfortable with.

Privacy is important, especially after a violation like sexual assault. Providing information about resources, medical steps that needs to be taken, how to report a crime and how to get emotional support through a medium that survivors are comfortable using is crucial.

This summer, the UW System launched a new website that provides information to students about the laws, policies, resources, campus reports and statistics related to sexual assault. This website lets the student find out how to get help, who to contact and how to report a crime if they choose to do so.

The creation of this site was an effort of the University of Wisconsin System Task Force on Sexual Violence and Harassment, formed in 2014. One of the task force’s guiding principles states that “Education and training should be relevant, comprehensive and appropriate to the audience.”

The idea that a more private method of providing information and resources would be a relevant and appropriate approach to this type of audience makes sense, and may have been a reason why the website was launched, as well as a reason why all of the schools in the UW System joined the “Reach Out” mobile application.

Capptivation, a nonprofit group of college graduates looking to change the tides of rape culture on college campuses, was founded in 2014. The nonprofit later developed the free ReachOut app.

The app works with roughly 3,000 colleges and has over 40,000 resources in its database, including local resources in the student’s area. This app can help survivors, allowing them to stay anonymous through the app, but is also great for friends or family of the survivor who want to know how to help.

Users choose their school in the app and it automatically personalizes to their local area. The features in the app are diverse. The Start Here feature provides information that is helpful immediately after an assault, and the Campus Resources feature helps students know how to connect with their Title IX Coordinator, counseling or student health. Features like medical care, reporting options, prevention and education and hotline information are all available on the ReachOut app, as well as information about how to get involved.

Bringing both of these technologies into the sexual assault awareness and prevention efforts could help to diversify the ways in which students can learn more on the subject.

When asked whether she thinks the new UW System sexual assault website will make a difference in helping students, new Turningpoint Campus Victim Advocate Katie Ryan stated that it is “a step in the right direction.”

Ryan explained that it all depends on “how people like and want to receive this information,” something that is hard to determine. She said that surveys regarding sexual assault resources and information will be launched in the fall semester to gather that information.

Thomas Pederson, deputy Title IX coordinator for UWRF, had not heard of the ReachOut app but wanted to remind students that the university is there to help. He stated that its focus is about “how can we make the student whole again, as best as we can,” that with their help “the complainant should be in a position where they can move forward and be successful.”

While most university employees are mandated reporters, meaning they have to report the crime to the school if they hear about it, there are exceptions. The Turningpoint victim advocate and campus counselors are exempt from this rule and are under no obligation to report, so survivors have somewhere to turn for more personalized help.

Upcoming campus and community events to further support sexual assault awareness and prevention include the Take Back the Night event on April 20 at St. Bridget’s Church in River Falls, as well as Denim Day on April 26.

The new UW System website can be viewed at https://www.wisconsin.edu/sexual-assault-harassment/.

Anyone who needs to report a sexual assault can call the Turningpoint 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-345-5104, campus police if crime was on campus or River Falls police if the incident happened outside of campus.