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Our view: Investigate further in sex assault cases

No means no -- and continues to mean no even after a night out and even after a few drinks. But is that the message coming from the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Superior where, since 2004, 10 sexual assaults have been reported to Campus ...

No means no -- and continues to mean no even after a night out and even after a few drinks.

But is that the message coming from the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Superior where, since 2004, 10 sexual assaults have been reported to Campus Safety and zero -- zero! -- have been prosecuted?

The latest was March 4, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. A female student said she was attacked after giving a ride to an intoxicated male student. The two had been out dancing, though apparently not together, in a Superior nightclub earlier. The alleged incident happened at the male student's Ostrander Hall dorm room.

The female student did what she was supposed to: She went to the hospital and filed a report. And authorities did what they were supposed to: They investigated.

But are investigations of campus assaults going far enough?

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"We get one story from the victim ... and then when you go talk to the suspect it's like, 'No, it was consensual,'" Superior Police Investigations Sgt. Rick Hughes told Wisconsin Public Radio. "So you've got what they typically call the 'he said-she said.' These two were the only two there. We don't have any way to prove otherwise. So it typically just makes it difficult for the district attorney's office to have a solid case."

Lisa Kane has heard similar-sounding brush-offs from authorities for far too long.

"It is extremely frustrating that the conversation almost always stops at 'he said-she said.' That's where the conversation should begin," Kane, the sexual assault program coordinator for Superior's Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, or CASDA, said in an interview with the News Tribune Opinion page. "The majority of sexual assaults happen with people who are acquaintances ... and alcohol remains the No. 1 date-rape drug. After 'he said-she said,' keep probing.

"I don't know if that's not happening [with the UWS cases], but it does happen," she said. "It's overwhelming."

Victims and their attackers may be the only ones to witness an incident first-hand. But they're far from the only ones involved. Investigators too often overlook friends, acquaintances and others who can recount conversations prior to an alleged attack indicating a victim was "groomed" or who can share an attacker's words of boasting from afterward.

"We need to open our eyes to ... unusual approaches to a standard investigation," Sarah Fries of the Duluth-based Program to Aid Victims of Sexual Assault, or PAVSA, told the News Tribune Opinion page. The 'he said-she said' cop-out "is a very common end on a number of levels. If it's not something that law enforcement uses as an end to an investigation it can come from the county attorney's office."

But that could soon change, as the numbers suggest needs to happen. Investigators, attorneys and others are at least talking about the need to probe deeper when receiving reports of sexual assault. Recent conversations included at a PAVSA-sponsored training session last month with Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin and with Ingrid Bakke, the former district attorney from Boulder, Colo., who led the rape case against NBA star Kobe Bryant.

For the sake of justice, such conversations can continue and cases can reach courtrooms so juries can decide whether there's enough evidence.

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Zero prosecutions in

10 reports is unacceptable. No has to really mean no -- even after a few drinks and even on a college campus.

Related Topics: CRIMEOUR VIEW
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