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“Tell Us:” UW-Madison police hosting forum to encourage sexual assault victims to come forward

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MADISON (WITI) -- Sexual assault is something that happens to one in five women on college campuses, but UW-Madison police say it's extremely under-reported.

On Wednesday, July 9th, UW-Madison police will be holding a focus group to see how to get through to students that it's okay to come forward to report these crimes -- but students say it's a cultural change that needs to happen first.

We've all heard the excuses: "Oh no, he's just being him," "he's a nice guy," "I was just drunk and I let go of my guard and that's why that happened to me," -- leaving victims to take the blame.

Seniors Emily Hegland and Hanna Kohn say the biggest problem is not having a clear definition of sexual assault.

"Something that makes you feel uncomfortable, makes you feel violated,"

They say it's that foggy answer that makes it so hard to blow the whistle.

"You don't feel like it's a crime. You put the blame on yourself and I think the blame, it's a more cultural thing if anything,"

But according to Marc Lovicott with UW Police, reporting these crimes could help save others from the same experience.

"It's such an under-reported issue on campus and we want individuals to come forward. We need to know about these things and we want to bring those individuals responsible for this to justice so they don't re-offend," Lovicott said.

Lovicott says many times, sexual assault victims will talk with friends and family members -- but they won't go to police -- leaving the offender to think what they're doing is okay.

"It's just something that we know we need to tackle head-on, and we need to start talking about it and we need to get students on board to tell us what's going on and to tell us when these things happen," Lovicott said.

The girls say they understand why people would stay quiet about such a person thing, but know this topic needs more attention.

"Silence is the enemy, and not that I think everyone needs to discuss traumatic events but I think the people that are willing to share their story are really brave and it's their actions that really make other people able to share their own stories and get the problem out in the open,"

UW Police say there were only 32 reported sexual assaults on campus last year.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, the department has a "Tell Us" campaign.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the UW-Madison Police Department's "Tell Us" campaign.

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