In a January city council candidate forum, a UW-Madison student raised her hand to ask a question that seemed to catch both Zach Wood and John Terry Jr.—who are vying for a seat representing campus—off guard: “What would you do to combat sexual assault?”
Addressing sexual violence in Madison hasn’t typically been a focal point in past Common Council elections, but after two high-profile cases involving numerous allegations of sexual assault and stalking shook the UW-Madison campus in 2016, students are putting the issue on candidates running for District 8.
Incumbent Ald. Zach Wood, who has held the seat since 2015, thinks sexual assault has always been a big issue on campus, but said more can be done now that people are talking about it.
“I think that now that it has a name, a lot of very good attention put on it and a lot of efforts to combat it, we are having a greater community-wide discussion about it,” Wood said.
Addressing sexual assault and combating it, he said, are two different things. Wood said that combating the issue is complicated, and that there are “a lot of different components” to it, but he has some ideas.
“There are a few [assaults] that happen in very public areas,” Wood said. “I supported cameras in the State and Langdon area. This will help in a select few cases.”
Cameras would help identify assaults that happen in public areas, Wood said, but noted that “the vast majority” of sexual assaults happen behind closed doors, in dorms and apartments. To address them, he said the number one thing we can do is to take survivors seriously.
“As a student who graduated in 2015, I know several [of my friends] have talked to me about their experience, and they are not necessarily taken seriously,” Wood said.
Along with having security cameras on the street and taking survivors seriously, Wood also emphasized the importance of collaboration between the city and the university.
“The city needs to work with the university, the students and the student organizations we have,” he said. “Everybody needs to play a part. It is such a complicated issue, and we only combat rape culture when everybody stays engaged and has this dialogue.”
John Terry Jr.—Wood’s challenger— is a former homeless man and a current Madison resident. Terry decided to run for District 8 to bring his perspective of what it is like to be homeless to the government and make affordable housing more readily available to all residents.
Although Terry’s main focus is on helping the homeless and providing affordable housing to community members, the candidate said he is learning more about sexual assault as his campaign progresses.
“About a month ago I had a debate with Zach Wood, and a question was given to me about sexual assault. I did not know how to answer that,” said Terry. “I said: education, walk in pairs, do not become too intoxicated—things like that.”
Since his debate, Terry said he’s changed his views on the topic and how to combat it. After speaking to community members and contacting student organizations to gain more insight into sexual assault, Terry now says sexual assault is “a big issue” and “will not be tolerated.”
Terry proposed putting more cameras around the city, as well as having community groups patrol “high-risk” areas like Langdon Street.
Terry views fraternities as one of the main sources of sexual assault. To combat campus rape culture, Terry said he wants to institute punishments for fraternities with members that have been charged with assault.
“What I would like to see happen is that if a fraternity member is found guilty [of sexual assault], the whole frat house should be shut down,” Terry said. “The city needs to be more involved instead of just the university.”
The city council election is April 4.