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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Out of 24 sexual assault crime warnings between 2013 and 2017, few resulted in a UW-Madison Police Department investigation. Only one resulted in an arrest, which ended up with the offender deferring prosecution.

Out of 24 sexual assault crime warnings between 2013 and 2017, few resulted in a UW-Madison Police Department investigation. Only one resulted in an arrest, which ended up with the offender deferring prosecution.

Many warnings of sexual assault on campus, but few arrests ever follow

With a vibrating buzz or a quiet ding, a student at Camp Randall Stadium for this year’s commencement would have checked their phone two dozen times to find warnings of nearby sexual assaults during their last four years at UW-Madison.

These alerts rarely have follow-ups.

Few of these warnings of sexual assault resulted in police investigations, and even fewer—one out of the 24 total—resulted in an arrest. That arrest ended in deferred prosecution.

UW-Madison Police Department officials weren’t surprised by this information—which was obtained through an open records request by The Daily Cardinal—and explained why so few warnings ultimately yielded arrests.

“It's very possible that many of these, and quite often most of the crime warnings we send out, do not initiate a police investigation at all,” UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott said. “If we don’t have a victim, or they don’t want to share the identity of the offender, then we won’t be able to make an arrest.”

Lovicott and UWPD Director of Clery Compliance Jaimee Gilford said this is often due to the decisions of survivors, as well as the difficulty of finding the suspect.

Lovicott said UWPD is often notified of sexual assaults through third-party reports, typically coming from a Campus Security Authority or housing reports. In other instances, a survivor may open an investigation but decide to no longer proceed with the process later on.

During the years 2013 to 2017, there were 38 total crime warnings, with 24 of those being for varying degrees of sexual assault. UWPD investigated 13 of these sexual assault cases—the rest were reported to different resources.

In the situation when a third party is notified of an assault, Gilford is made aware of it and it is determined whether a crime warning should be issued. But, UWPD does not open an investigation unless the survivor comes forward to the department.

“We need to make sure, especially with these sensitive crime cases, that … the victim is steering the boat,” Lovicott said. “If they do not want to speak with police we absolutely respect that. If that’s the case we literally can’t investigate something when we don’t have a victim who's willing to share information with us.”

The goal of the crime warnings is to warn the community of an ongoing threat, according to Gilford, but must protect the identity of the survivor while doing so.

Crime warnings are issued under the Clery Act, a federal law that requires all institutions of higher education to have in place particular safety and security policies and report certain crimes to the community, according to Gilford. The warnings are sent when one of the Clery crimes occurs in a timely manner in a Clery geography area, which is defined by on-campus property, public property and non-campus property.

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Gilford is notified of the crimes and consults the UWPD manager-on-call who determines if the crime poses a continuing threat to the community. Gilford said most cases are considered ongoing if the suspect has not been taken into custody. If they decide this is the case, a crime warning is sent to anyone with a UW-Madison email address.

Crime warnings are required to include information explaining what triggered the offense, as well as information about what people can do to protect themselves and prevent a recurrence of the crime. A description of the suspect and photographs if available are also included.

There are several details, though, that legally do not have to be disclosed. The specific address of the incident, for instance, is not explicitly listed. For example, 13 of the 24 total crime warnings occurred in residence halls, but citing the specific hall in a crime warning would be considered the survivor’s address. Instead, a description such as “a southeast residence hall” is used.

Lovicott said details that would jeopardize the police investigation, such as specific time stamps, are also not included.

Sam Johnson, a violence prevention specialist with University Health Service’s End Violence on Campus unit, said she often hears from students that the crime warning emails are vague and they wish they knew more, especially about the situation of the survivor.

“[It’s] part of the protection of the law that there’s a duty to disclose crimes, but there’s also a safety and privacy concern for the victim that experienced that crime,” Johnson said. “[This] is why you don’t get a lot of follow-up information with the campus community. UWPD determines there is an ongoing threat to the rest of campus, and they really have to balance individual safety and community safety.”

She said UWPD has to be careful when describing even the most minor details because “information travels quickly” and events can be pieced together with the slightest clues, especially in close communities such as residence halls and Greek houses. She said not disclosing particular information protects the survivor’s privacy.

If a survivor of a sexual assault chooses to go another route and does not file a report with UWPD, they are provided with the assistance they want, according to Gilford. If the incident is reported to UW Housing, the survivor is given resources—such as a support person—and is put in touch with the residence hall office. The Title IX coordinator as well as a Title IX consultation team review the case and reach out to the survivor to ensure they receive the support they need.

Johnson said there are a number of reasons why survivors do not often move forward with police investigations. Among these are not knowing how to file a report, fear of authority figures and police more generally and the stigma that survivors will not be believed.

She said although the number of arrests compared to that of crime warnings may appear disproportionate, arrests often do not occur out of the personal interest of the survivor and their reluctance to pursue an investigation, sometimes due to protection of their privacy.

“From a victim advocacy perspective we encourage the student to focus on what's going to be best for them and their own healing process,” Johnson said. “They are the expert in their experience, so they get to prioritize their own safety and interests first.”

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