This is the second story in a series exploring issues behind the headlines of the TKE controversy. You can read the first story here.
The controversy over the TKE fraternity’s revocation by UW-Milwaukee and not-yet-proven allegations of date-rape drugging drove sensational headlines this fall. However, those allegations weren’t the norm. Alleged sexual assaults at UWM occurred in the dorms and on public transportation, frequently involved alcohol use, and, about half of the time, involved strangers, a Media Milwaukee investigation found.
There was a pattern of non-prosecution (with some alleged victims even dropping out of school), but there was also a pattern in which people admitted to police making allegations up.
The lines for what defines sexual assault are sometimes blurred, the evidence often on shaky ground, the suspects sometimes unknown, the alleged victims unwilling to cooperate, and allegations sometimes provably false. It turns out that the fight against ‘rape-culture’ can be a lot messier than the clear-cut case it is sometimes made out to be.
A team of Media Milwaukee reporters filed open records requests and poured through 500 pages of UWM police reports to find out how big of a problem campus sexual assault is – at least by the measurement of allegations reported to campus authorities.
Since 2011, UWM police have handled 23 sexual-assault related cases, the records show. About half of the victims did not know their alleged assailant prior to the attack. Three were approached on public transport such as the bus and inter-dorm shuttles, the reports show.
To be clear, the reports do not paint the full picture of sexual assault at UWM. That’s because incidents are often handled by other jurisdictions if they occur off campus (although some off-campus cases are in the reports), and a victim’s advocate who deals with the issue believes there’s systemic under-reporting. However, the reports do provide a window into the issue.
People who believe they have been raped are encouraged to contact UWM police or the on-campus Women’s Resource Center. Susan McCarthy, a representative for WRC, says between 250 to 300 men and women visit the Resource Center each year, many with questions regarding sexual assault.
“There were more this year, and I attribute that to the national attention on sexual assault from the White House, ‘It’s On Us’ campaign,” said McCarthy.
That campaign is focused on educating the public to recognize what sexual assault is and how to intervene. It’s come on the heels of numerous accusations in the media and public outcry that universities by and large are under-documenting and under-prosecuting sexual-assault cases. Still, the commonly cited statistic that one in every five women in college will be sexually assaulted at some point during their college tenure is known by nearly any university student you ask.
Patterns and aberrations
Of the alleged sexual assaults in UWM police reports, there was one trend that stuck out at no surprise: Drunk guys allegedly taking advantage of drunk girls. But that was hardly the only story. The reports showed that, in some cases, women admitted making up allegations to police.
The investigation found:
- Eight of the alleged assaults took place in the dorms.
- Roughly half of all the assaults were alcohol-related.
- Most of the reported cases of sexual assault to UWM police involved a man allegedly assaulting a female, although two cases involved a man allegedly assaulting another man.
- Two of the cases ended in the alleged victim dropping out of school soon after.
- There was a pattern of the cases not resulting in charges. From these alleged assaults resulted one restraining order, one arrest and subsequent charge that went forward, and one arrest that seems to still be open. Assuming that the last one results in a charge, that’s still only three of the alleged sexual assaults.
- A key issue for police was the inability to identify or locate assailants. In one of the male-on-male assaults, numerous attempts were made to locate the suspect via interviews with associated friend groups and the contact of all guests admitted to the dorms that evening to no avail. In another case, a woman was randomly targeted inside the union never seeing her alleged assailant again. In one of the notorious armed robberies happening in surrounding campus-neighborhoods, one female recalls being shoved to the ground from behind and having a gun put to her head as she was assaulted by a man whose face she never saw.
Many of the reports that happened in the dorms involved a woman going to the police the morning after and saying she knew she was assaulted or raped. In one case, a woman allegedly woke up in the dorms with memories of a struggle with a boy she knew from her hometown, and then she found a torn up picture of her boyfriend in the trash, according to police reports obtained by Media Milwaukee through an open records request. In the days following, the attacker had allegedly been anonymously messaging the woman’s boyfriend bragging about what had happened, the reports allege.
Names of suspects and accusers are blacked out in the reports. Media Milwaukee does not identify accusers in sexual assaults or suspects not arrested or charged.
Another case involved loosely the same narrative; a woman allegedly went out with her friends to a party. She allegedly ran into an older guy she knew from her childhood who was close to her brother; at the end of the night he invited her into his room, she thought nothing of it and he ended up allegedly allegedly assaulting her, holding her still in his bed, and wouldn’t even let her go to the bathroom, the police reports say.
In both of these instances, the alleged assaulter thought nothing of it in the morning. What was a sexual assault, they perceived as a romantic encounter, said the reports.
No matter the means under which the rape occurs, it appears most women do not follow through with pressing charges for fear of retaliation and concerns with the complexities of trial.
Some cases were false
The chance of a rape allegation being falsified, while unlikely, does occur, and can have very public and real consequences for the accused.
Falsified reports and inconsistencies echo with another story in the news. Rolling Stone published an article in November accounting a student’s story of being systematically gang raped by over 10 members of a University of Virginia fraternity. Like the TKE story, it quickly gained sensationalistic national-media attention. Within days of the release of the publication, multiple inconsistencies surfaced, and it appears now that most or all of the story might not be accurate.
In the controversy over TKE at UW-Milwaukee, the fall 2014 semester had kicked off with its normal festivities. Welcome week is notorious around the university for a week filled with copious amounts of alcohol, wild house parties and for the grand finale, the annual school-sponsored concert, Pantherfest.
However, the opening of the new school year’s alcohol-fueled activities would take a much more sinister turn in the early hours of Saturday, Sept. 13. Police were called to Sandburg dorms four times between midnight and 1:33 a.m. that morning for reports of students exhibiting signs of extreme intoxication. Four students, three women and one man, were all taken to Colombia St. Mary’s emergency room for detox, reports say.
The story exploded into the realm national media making the front page all the way from culture-oriented outlets such as Salon and MTV all the way to 24-hour news networks like CBS and CNN.
Within days, UWM students organized a march towards the fraternity house holding signs demanding for the end of the TKE fraternity and rape culture abroad. However, to date only drug charges unrelated to the date-rape drugging accusations in the media have been filed against one man. He’s mounted a vigorous defense of those charges.
Pattern of non-prosecution
A few of the women whose stories are recounted in the UWM police reports reported feeling intimidated by their attackers or overwhelmed by the idea of bringing their attackers to trial.
In one case, a woman was allegedly brought to male’s apartment. The male subsequently proceeded to lay multiple firearms on a coffee table inside the apartment before allegedly raping the female. In another case, a male followed a female on the bus allegedly reaching up her skirt. Upon the arrest of the male he reported owning a gun and threatened to kill the woman and all police officers involved in the arrest. He was later found incompetent to stand trial, and the case was dismissed.
Another concerning issue brought forth were four cases involving allegations which were uncorroborated by evidence or admittedly manufactured by accusers.
In one case, a female claimed she came to UW-Milwaukee to see some friends for the weekend. The female was also in an ‘on and off’ relationship with a male attending the university. Upon arriving to the university, she claimed she was unexpectedly greeted by the male who showed her to his dorm room where he forcibly raped her. She reported the said rape to police two days later after her friends urged her to come forward, police reports say.
Police contacted the accused male, who explained he was under the impression the sex was consensual and provided his phone to corroborate his story. The woman had originally claimed they had had no contact prior to her arrival, although text messages were exchanged showing that they were anticipating meeting with each other when she arrived. The female had also explained to the police that the male had followed her the rest of the night until she could meet with her friends later, the reports say.
Text messages showed records of the female trying to reach out to the male the rest of the night, texting him multiple stating she loved him while in the same room of a party, also asking why he wouldn’t talk to her. Upon the police contacting the woman with this evidence, she decided she no longer wanted to bring charges upon the male.
Another claim involved a woman stating a random male had reached up her skirt on the shuttle after a party. Police contacted the victim in the morning after filing the initial report, and her story seemed to be slightly inconsistent with what she had told police the previous night, reports said. Police inquired of the shuttle drivers for that night who don’t remember seeing the woman or hearing anyone ask for help from their shuttle. Officers went back to the victim with this information, and she changed her story again, this time claiming a male outside the party had kissed her without permission but that he never forcibly touched her sexually.
A third case involved the police finding a woman in alcohol-fueled hysterics wandering aimlessly around the parking garage in the Northwest Quadrant. Police inquired her about being potentially sexually assaulted to which the victim confirmed but was too intoxicated to give details. Police drove the victim home and questioned her roommates. The roommates claimed they had dropped her off in the area of the NWQ after already being in hysterics in what they claimed was a lack of attention being paid to her at the bar. The roommates claimed the woman had claimed she had been raped times before and had notorious ‘body issues.’ Upon contacting the woman in the morning, she claimed she had made the story up and could not explain why, reports show.
Coinciding with the trend of public transport, another woman claims a man had stood close to her on the bus while fondling his genitals. As the bus reached the union, the woman got off, and the male followed.
Once entering the union, the female went immediately to the security desk to report the incident, and the male continued on into the union. The male was subsequently arrested shortly after. Upon interrogating the male, he claimed there was no way he could have done such a thing because he was a homosexual, reports show. Police obtained footage from the bus ride and determined while the male was indeed standing within a close proximity to the female, there were no apparent sexual advances or movements in his genital area, exonerating the man.
Part of the problem is also that lots of men and women aren’t completely clear as to what constitutes as sexual assault, which is another goal of McCarthy. She provided Media Milwaukee with a presentation she has given on the topic.
“Sexual violence is any act (verbal and/or physical) which breaks a person’s trust and/or safety and is sexual in nature,” she says in her presentation. “The term ‘sexual violence’ includes: rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, marital or partner rape, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.”
McCarthy’s presentation also states that an estimated, 81-84 percent of on and off campus sexual assaults are not reported to the police. This could be attributed to the lack of information on sexual assault on campus, or a fear of being judged and scrutinized by peers.
Some students said the campus could use more education.
“I have never been presented with any information of the resources available on campus or have been asked to take a survey in the event of a sexual assault,” said Erica Peckarsky, a senior.
Hannah Weis, a senior at UWM similarly said, “I do not recall being informed about the available resources in the event of sexual assault, but honestly I don’t really think of sexual assault as a problem because I haven’t heard much about sexual assault cases happening around or on campus.”
“I honestly haven’t heard any other guys talking about what exactly constitutes as sexual assault because the subject has never been brought up,” said UWM senior Colton Dunham.
McCarthy says 81-84 percent of on and off campus sexual assaults are not reported to the police. This could be attributed to the lack of information on sexual assault on campus, or a fear of being judged and scrutinized by peers.
“What is also clear from this research is that so-called ‘date rape’ is not a pleasant evening gone bad because of too much alcohol,” McCarthy says in a presentation she provided to Media Milwaukee. “These undetected rapists plan and premeditate. They have a scheme for getting their victims into a secluded place where they will be vulnerable. Alcohol is part of this plan, intended to make the victim vulnerable and to disinhibit the rapist so he feels free to complete his assault.”