Victims of sexual assault and bystanders who call for help would not have to worry about citations or university discipline for underage drinking if a bill introduced Monday with support from UW-Madison and state law enforcement officials becomes law.
Attorney General Brad Schimel said the bill, authored by state Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, and Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, “breaks down one barrier to reporting” sexual assaults to police. Surveys and law enforcement data show a wide majority of sexual assaults are not reported.
UW-Madison Police Department officials and Chancellor Rebecca Blank joined Ballweg and Schimel at a news conference Monday to announce the legislation.
UW police assistant chief Kari Sasso said authorities have heard from survivors of sexual assault that they were concerned reporting the crime could lead to a ticket or university sanctions if they had been drinking.
Ballweg could not recall a case in which police had cited a victim for underage drinking, and Sasso said department policy for several years has been to not punish victims of violent crime who had been drinking illegally.
Madison police don’t have a formal policy on how to handle such cases, but a spokesman said officers similarly use their discretion and could not recall a case in which a victim was cited.
By putting that protection into law, Ballweg said, victims can be sure they won’t face discipline if they come for- ward.
“This legislation provides underage victims of sexual assault some peace of mind when deciding to come forward to report their assault,” Ballweg said.
Police readily acknowledge that the number of sexual assault reports they receive is well short of the number that actually occur.
A campus survey last fall found that 27.6 percent of responding undergraduate women at UW-Madison had experienced some form of sexual assault; 12.6 percent reported they had been raped at some point in their time on campus.
UW police received nine reports of sexual assault in 2015, according to a spokes- man.
Victims reported 245 sexual assaults to campus officials such as those in the Dean of Students office; some of those assaults may have been reported to other law enforcement agencies such as Madison police.
Alcohol was often a factor in sexual assaults.
According to the survey, victims said they or the person who assaulted them had been drinking in about three-quarters of rape cases.
Only 26.1 percent of sexual assault victims said they reported the incident to university officials or law enforcement.
Victims were less likely to report an assault if they had been asleep or incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.
UW-Madison police opposed a similar “good Samaritan” bill two years ago that would have applied more broadly to underage drinkers and bystanders who call to request emergency medical services.
Sasso said her department supports Ballweg’s bill because it aims to increase sexual assault reporting.
“We need to do all we can to encourage survivors of sexual assault to come forward to report this crime, so we can do our jobs as law enforcement to hold a perpetrator accountable,” Sasso said.
Ballweg said she will push to hold a hearing on the bill later this week, and hopes to pass the proposal before the end of the Assembly session.