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Staying safe on campus

J.B. Van Hollen

 It is nearly back-to-school time for students at Wisconsin’s 85 colleges and universities. While the beginning of a new school year often brings excitement and anticipation, it also must bring awareness about perpetrators of sexual assault.

Estimates show 1-in-5 women and 1-in-12 men who enroll in an institution of higher learning this fall will be sexually assaulted before they graduate. These are sobering statistics.

When we look at perpetrators of sexual assault on campus, we learn that most often they sexually assault someone they know, use drugs or alcohol to facilitate their assaults, premeditate and plan their crimes, isolate their victims and commit multiple assaults against multiple victims before they are stopped.

Victims of sexual assault find it difficult and challenging to come forward and report these incidents because they feel humiliated, scared and worried that no one will believe them. These concerns for victims are very real. Too many times, we read stories about sexual assault victims having to leave college, or even worse, committing suicide while perpetrators continue in school and graduate. Perpetrators of sexual assault bank on victims’ fears.

To stem the tide of sexual assaults on college campuses, the Wisconsin Department of Justice strives to make sure the criminal justice system response to college campus sexual assault is supportive of victims and effective in holding offenders accountable. The Attorney General’s Statewide Sexual Assault Response Team is developing a consent form and procedure for victims of sexual assault. They would receive a medical forensic exam with the collection of evidence but to have the evidence stored at the State Crime Laboratory for a period of time while the victim decides whether to engage the services of law enforcement in the investigation of the assault. This allows victims time to work through the trauma of their assault while ensuring the collection of evidence in a timely manner.

This compassionate response to sexual assault victims has received national attention, including from the National Center for Victims of Crime. On Sept. 17, I will share what we’ve accomplished in Wisconsin at the NCVC National Institute in Miami, Fla., on the “Statewide Response to Anonymous Report.”

Since January, the DOJ has facilitated statewide medical/forensic training through grants from the Violence Against Women Act. The collaborative partnership between DOJ and health care professionals in providing this important training has allowed us to combine more fully our expertise in order to sustain and expand the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is home to many reputable colleges and universities. Effectively addressing sexual violence with students, faculty and staff, and maintaining our focus on the perpetrators of these crimes, while supporting victims, ensures that all students have the opportunity to learn and thrive in a safe and secure environment.

J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsin’s attorney general. He also served as the U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Wisconsin and district attorney in Ashland and Bayfield counties.