UWL officials support new statewide sexual assault bill

Bill would give immunity to those who report a sexual assault while drinking underage

A new bill being introduced at the state capitol is expected to encourage more victims and bystanders to report sexual assaults.

When any type of sexual violence occurs, there are a number of reasons some victims don’t report it whether it’s because they are scared, don’t think anyone will believe them or are afraid of getting in trouble.

Well a new measure being proposed would prevent sexual assault victims or bystanders who report one from being ticketed for underage drinking and the hope is that more people will be willing to speak up.

For years, UW-La Crosse Police Chief Scott McCullough said they have followed a policy similar to the new sexual assault bill being proposed at the state Capitol.

“It’s an effort to protect our victims and also hold our perpetrators responsible,” said McCullough.

At UWL any student who is the victim of sexual violence or a bystander that reports an incident won’t be cited or charged if they were drinking underage at the time.

“At least the people reporting don’t have to worry about any of these minor complications if you will,” said McCullough.

However, McCullough said he doesn’t believe everyone knows the policy and that’s why he supports making it statewide.

“I think this is a good bill. It takes the victims needs into consideration and it hopefully if one more victim steps forward to prevent the next victim from occurring, that’s a good thing,” said McCullough.

UWL Dean of Students Paula Knudson agrees.

“If there is anything that we can do to draw attention and make it easier to report this, I am supportive of that,” said Knudson.

But Knudson said she is not completely convinced this will open the doors for more victims to come forward.

“It’s a much more complex issue than not just being cited,” said Knudson. “Until we say you don’t deserve this and you have avenues to report, to respond, and to take ownership again, we are not going to make progress.”

However, she said a statewide proposal is a good place to start.

“I am supportive of anything that would open the door a little bit more,” said Knudson.

“Anything that limits the actions of the police is something we scrutinize pretty closely, but I haven’t seen anything that I am worried about because it already mirrors what we area already doing,” said McCullough.

Last fall, Knudson said three UWL students were suspended or expelled because of sexual violence on campus.

According to the violence prevention specialist, about 28 sexual assaults were reported last year at UWL.