Cases shed light on lapses in sexual assault reporting at Marquette

A student walks in the shadow of the Engineering Center on the campus of Marquette University. (David Pierini/Tribune)

MILWAUKEE — On a chilly Sunday morning, a 19-year-old Marquette University student walked into the campus security office and tearfully reported being raped by an athlete just hours earlier.

She says two of the officers on duty that February day dismissed her claim, telling her they didn't know whether it was a crime because she alleged the encounter began as consensual sex and ended as an assault.

No report was taken, and Milwaukee police were not notified by the university, which insists the woman said she did not want authorities involved.

The university now acknowledges that failing to notify police was a violation of state law, which requires campus security departments to report any possible crimes to local authorities. School officials also did not tell police about a sexual attack allegation involving four athletes in October.

In fact, Marquette administrators told the Tribune that they have violated their reporting obligations for the past 10 years. And in at least the two most recent cases, the lapse played a role in prosecutors declining to press charges.

The admission comes amid media inquiries into the Catholic college's handling of those two cases and serves as a backdrop for the woman's account of what happened after she reported being raped on Feb. 27.

Breaking her public silence, the woman described a university determined to bury her allegations and eager to insulate itself from criticism once her accusations became known. She has shared the same account with law enforcement, school officials and medical professionals, according to documents and multiple Tribune interviews.

"It has pretty much become my life. I'll never just be able to forget that it happened, because it changed everything," she told the newspaper this week. "I don't trust anyone. I will never again trust the university. I will never again trust anyone in any position of authority because they worked their absolute hardest against me and lied to me."

Media attention to the Marquette cases reflects an increased scrutiny of the way administrators and law enforcement officials handle sex-crime allegations on the nation's college campuses, where nearly 1 in 5 women will be a victim of an attempted or actual sexual assault, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. For the past several months, the Obama administration has been calling attention to the issue with a series of initiatives and investigations aimed at better protecting students from sex crimes.

Last week, a Tribune analysis of several major Midwestern universities found that few students who report sexual violence see their attackers arrested and almost none see them convicted.

The survey of six schools in Illinois and Indiana found that police investigated 171 reported sex crimes since fall 2005, with 12 resulting in arrests and four in convictions. Only one of the convictions stemmed from a student-on-student attack, the most common type of assault claim.

Marquette reported 16 forcible sex offenses on campus from 2001 through 2009 to the U.S. Department of Education, according to the university. The school declined to provide the Tribune with the disposition of those cases.

Fresh injuries

In repeated statements to authorities, the woman in the Feb. 27 incident described accepting an invitation to the athlete's campus apartment that day. Though the two had a sexual relationship in the past, he suddenly had stopped calling or spending time with her, she said.

Once there, they began to have consensual sex, she said. However, the woman said, she tried to get off the bed and leave after he made disparaging comments to her and wouldn't explain why he had stopped contacting her.

She said she told him to stop but that he refused. She said she fought back but that he was too strong for her and held her down.

The woman agreed to speak to the Tribune on the condition that her name not be used.

Neither the athlete nor his Milwaukee-based lawyer returned calls seeking comment. The athlete, whom the Tribune is not identifying because he has not been charged with a crime, has told authorities and school administrators that the sex was consensual, according to multiple sources.

After leaving the athlete's apartment, the woman said, she returned to her dorm and tried to sleep. After a fitful few hours, she confided in a resident assistant about the previous night's events. The RA sent her directly to the security department, where, the woman says, two on-duty officers told her they were not sure that the encounter could be classified as a crime.