A sexual assault in a Southeast residence hall Sunday was reported in a “Crime Warning” email sent to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus community on Monday. Because the alleged victim has not filed a police report, there remains no active police investigation into the incident. Instead, the case is being handled by the Sexual Misconduct Resource and Response Program formally known as the Title IX program.
This case is not alone.
From July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021, UW-Madison has received 139 claims of sexual assault or sexual violence on behalf of students. Out of those 139, only 15 incidents have gone through formal investigations by police or by the Sexual Misconduct Resource and Response Program office.
“Only a fairly small number of students who experience an assault request a formal investigation,” said program coordinator Lauren Hasselbacher, JD. “In the vast majority of cases, the Title IX office does not press for students to file formal complaints in order to respect personal choice and autonomy.”
Despite no formal police investigation, the university has a legal obligation to report information related to incidents on or around campus, or that represent an “ongoing threat to [campus] community so faculty, students and staff can take necessary steps to protect themselves,” said UW Spokesperson Meredith McGlone.
“The university is committed to providing the full range of supportive measures, regardless of whether the individual chooses to make a formal complaint to the police or through the university,” McGlone said.
These support services include advocacy, mental health services and medical services through University Health Services, as well as providing academic and housing accommodations with protective measures, such as no-contact directives. These directives prohibit the alleged perpetrator from making contact with the victim, with additional instructions provided in instances where the students share a residence hall or are taking the same course.
The university does not press students to report sexual assault as a practical matter, as investigations are unlikely to bear fruit if the student does not want to cooperate, Hasselbacher said. However, there are rare exceptions to this policy.
“It often varies based on the nature of the allegations, but if it has been deemed to not be an ongoing safety threat, there is a legal obligation as well as university policy to not discipline prior to an investigation,” said Hasselbacher. “However, we do put into place general protective measures including no-contact orders. Violation of these orders will result in further investigations and additional charges being placed onto the [accused].”
“For students who allege that the attack took place by someone else in the same residence hall, the no-contact order could justify putting the [accused] into another residence hall,” or by separating them by some other means, Hasselbacher said. “If the [accused] is in a position of trust, we would also employ additional special protective measures.”
Additionally, 10 students whose cases were investigated requested an alternative solution with the alleged perpetrator — which were granted in all cases — and two students were granted housing accommodations related to their alleged assault. These numbers do not include instances of sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence, stalking or sexual exploitation, which are also handled by Sexual Misconduct Resource and Response.
“The email we received earlier this week is certainly not the only incident on our campus and the Madison community,” said PAVE president Jessica Melnik. “I hope a greater awareness of the issue will lead to fewer instances of violence, more support for survivors and a campus that practices a culture of consent in all of our interactions with each other.”
“Sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault,” Melnik concluded. “And reporting violence is often made more difficult by institutional barriers that perpetuate victim-blaming and re-traumatization through the process.”
Sexual violence prevention and survivor support resources can be found here.