Elizabeth Vierkant –
Sexual violence has been a major topic over the past few years. University of Wisconsin–Stout student, Ryan Leckel is conducting research on sexual violence in Menomonie.
Leckel, is a senior in the applied social science program, is conducting this research for his capstone project. This is the final thesis conducted by students prior to graduation.
“My findings were very clear that there was an issue [with sexual violence] in Menomonie compared to national averages- compared to other college towns,” Leckel said. “It was just difficult to pinpoint the reasoning for that.”
According to Leckel, Menomonie had high reports of sexual assault. Through a ten year period, there were 119 reports at the Menomonie Police Department. These reports didn’t include the year 2009, and they included one month of 2018.
Out of these sexual violence cases, 91 percent were committed against women. The other 9 percent were reported by men. The reports included no victims listed as non-binary. 60.5 percent of victims were suspected to have been UW–Stout students. 88 percent of the crimes were committed against people between the ages of 18 and 34. 70.5 percent were committed against people between the ages of 18 and 24.
These statistics were compared with reports from River Falls and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
“Yes, we are a college town, and that is explanatory for certain elements of this, but we’re also only talking about one agency,” said Leckel. “We have three authoritative agencies in the same area between the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department, the Menomonie Police Department, and then the campus police.” He was only able to gather data from one agency.
Data is also being gathered through interviews and surveys. According to Leckel, the response rate to his survey was low. Despite this, he and his research assistant, Elizabeth Baker, have been able to interview three people so far.
Through interviews, Leckel has noticed some common themes. As stated by him, there is a fear of retraumatization for the victims. This is best described as secondary trauma brought on by memories or speaking about a traumatic event.
With these interviews and surveys, he hopes he will gain more information from those with first hand, second hand, or no experience with sexual violence. “It’s very important with something like this- especially when we’re talking from a community aspect- to bring everyone together and allow everyone to have a voice,” he said.
Leckel also believes that Menomonie needs more resources to assist those affected by sexual violence. He has also concluded that through community, Menomonie would begin to see some changes with sexual violence. According to him, relationships can make a major difference.
“We’re not acknowledging that we really do contribute to the community identity and vice versa. The community outside of the school contributes to the identity of the university…” Leckel said. “[We] really need to be building those relationships. I think that when we can get to that point of building those relationships in a meaningful way, then we can make change, because it takes all of us.”
Despite the statistics, Leckel also wanted to emphasize that he considers his findings to be hopeful. According to him, the strength of those that he interviewed shows that with support, change can be made.
“It takes a tremendous amount of strength for someone who’s gone through a traumatic event to speak to a stranger- a researcher- to open up, knowing that they won’t see any immediate benefits, and in fact, may be retraumatized by coming in and offering their time and their story,” he said. “It is such a powerful message.”
According to Leckel, the information he has found through his research wasn’t shocking, since it follows national averages. For him, the most surprising notion has been the positive response this project has received. This has com from those participating in both the surveys and interviews and those not.
“I think that more people are willing to be open about those experiences,” said Leckel. “And, by acknowledging that these things are happening, that is the first step toward change.”
If you or anyone you know has dealt with sexual violence and is in need of help, please feel free to contact The Bridge to Hope. They can be reached through a call at 1-800-924-9918. This is a 24-hour hotline for those dealing with abuse and sexual assault.
Feel free to also contact UW–Stout’s counseling center at 715-232-2468. They are currently located in 410 Bowman Hall from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be contacted at 1-800-656-4673. These lines are also open 24-hours a day.