Campus policies and state and federal guidelines require that University of Wisconsin-La Crosse officials, not the police, handle sexual assault allegations.
The issue of sexual assault is in the headlines after a former UW-L wrestling coach filed a lawsuit last week against UW-Whitewater. Tim Fader, now the UW-Eau Claire wrestling coach, claimed that when he was Whitewater’s coach he was retaliated against by administrators after he reported an allegation of sexual assault to police instead of university officials.
In April 2014, Fader said the mother of a former UW-Whitewater student told Fader the student had been sexually assaulted, according to a story by the Wisconsin State Journal. Fader’s complaint states he contacted Whitewater police about the allegation and was punished for not informing campus authorities.
According to WISC-TV, a UW-Whitewater wrestling recruit was accused of the sexual assault; the recruit was questioned by police, but Walworth County prosecutors declined to file charges.
According to UW-L affirmative action director Nizam Arain, if a UW-L employee had engaged in similar conduct to Fader’s by reporting the sexual assault to police instead of campus officials, that employee would have violated campus policy. He said that’s because a web of policies and laws all the way up to the federal level regulate how universities respond to sexual assault complaints.
State and federal requirements such as Title IX, the landmark law prohibiting gender discrimination in education, require most university employees to immediately report incidents and allegations of sexual assault through the UW System’s non-academic conduct process. Designated staff, such as Ingrid Peterson, the UW-L violence prevention coordinator, and health and counseling staff are not mandated reporters, and can meet confidentially with students to discuss their options and wishes going forward as well as refer students for support services.
Police are not required to be notified of an allegation, Peterson and Arain said. The only exception is for minor victims of child sexual assault and abuse. The exception was carved out by Gov. Scott Walker’s Executive Order 54, signed in 2011 in response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
Arain said while university policy encourages and recommends that all crimes be reported to the campus police, not all students might want to go forward with a formal investigation of an assault allegation. In all cases, UW-L defers to the wishes of the students in regards to reporting the incident to the police.
Only a handful of campus sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to the most recent UW-L Annual Security Report. Four cases of sexual assault were reported to the police between 2012 and 2014, compared with 58 incidents reported through other university channels during the same period of time.
Sexual assault is not just a crime, Arain said, but it is also a violation of student conduct policies and a civil rights issue, one of the reasons the federal Department of Education has ramped up enforcement regulations through Title IX in recent years. The campus disciplinary process offers students additional remedies to what they can get by going to the police he said, such as the ability to change living or class assignments.
“We want to empower the person to make their own choice,” he said. “We know from research that there are a number of different responses to sexual assault.”