Campus activist groups hope to bring awareness to sexual assaults at UW

Campus activist groups hope to bring awareness to sexual assaults at UW
Bascom Hall

Campus groups focused on helping victims of sexual assault are looking at the attention from the Alec Cook case as a way to start conversations about assault on campus.

National statistics say one in five women are sexually assaulted during their time at college. At UW-Madison, the number is higher, and one out of four women are victims of sexual assault.

Julia Addis is part of a group called “We’re Better Than That – Men Against Sexual Assault.”  

“Basically, we work with students on campus all over, from athletes, incoming students and Greek life, to kind of change the way we talk about sexual assault and make men part of the solution,” she said.

While the charges against Cook are serious, Addis said she is looking at the situation as a way to start a conversation.

“This is a very extreme thing that’s kind of devastated our campus, but it does speak to a lot of the larger issues of how we can change campus culture, and that this is something that can be prevented from the way we talk about it with our peers, and that’s definitely something we’ve worked towards,” she said.

The executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in Madison said that most of the time, victims of sexual assault know the person who attacks them.

“It is more common for people to know their attacker than it is to not,” Erin Thornley Parisi said. “Stranger rape is actually relatively rare.”

She said that can make it hard for victims to come forward and report when they’ve been assaulted by someone they know, especially if the victim is a woman.

“As women, we are criticized and held accountable for sexual violence by what we wear, what we say, how much we consume, whether or not we were out at dark, whether or not we dared to walk alone. All of those different things, we’re just constantly looking for ways to blame women,” Thornley Parisi said. “And so you add on top of that that the woman knows the perpetrator, she’s held accountable to another whole level. Like ‘Wow, you didn’t know that this guy was a rapist?’ and that just adds another big pile on it and another reason for women to feel that they won’t be believed or supported.”

Addis said she hopes her involvement with the group helps to change that kind of victim-blaming toward women.

“It’s about making a change from telling girls, ‘You can’t walk home alone, you can’t dress this way, you shouldn’t be out past this hour.’ It needs to be guys, you need to take a stand,” Addis said. “If you see something, bystander intervention is so important, and also knowing correct techniques to do that is a really important tool that needs to be talked about more.”

Thornley Parisi said that while it can be helpful for victims to come forward and report when they’ve been assaulted, ultimately, it’s up to them to decide what they want to do.

“Whatever a victim wants to do is the right thing to do,” she said. “For some people, it is good for them to repor,t and for other people, it is not good for them to report, and that is a decision we will support no matter what.”

Ultimately, the most important thing Thornley Parisi said is that victims should know sexual assault is not their fault.

“It’s not because of bad decisions they’re making, it’s because they have been identified as somebody who is vulnerable,” she said.

The Rape Crisis Center said anyone who has been talking about, or dealing with sexual assault on campus can call the help line, and that it’s not just for victims. The number is 608-251-7273.