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Anonymous reports protect victim, impede prosecution

Eight out of ten sexual assaults reported at the University of Wisconsin-Superior since 2004 were anonymous reports. The policy protects victims, but it also makes it impossible to prosecute. UWS Investigating Officer Tammy Fanning says students ...

Eight out of ten sexual assaults reported at the University of Wisconsin-Superior since 2004 were anonymous reports.

The policy protects victims, but it also makes it impossible to prosecute.

UWS Investigating Officer Tammy Fanning says students who anonymously report know their case won't be prosecuted.

"When a victim of sexual assault comes forward, they are encouraged to report as much as they are comfortable reporting. They are encouraged to report all details, their name, the name of the alleged perpetrator as well. However, if that victim is not comfortable with that, they are encouraged to report anonymously if they feel they need to," she said.

Krisi Patterson is the assistant director at UWS Campus Recreation. She is also a sexual assault survivor. Patterson was assaulted at age 17. She says anonymous reporting is a way to report without worrying about repercussions.

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"Sometimes being a victim is embarrassing. It may be someone that you know. It may be a family member. It may just emotionally take too much out of you. You put yourself aside. You say I don't want my family to suffer because of this. Again, the shame, the embarrassment, whatever overtakes you," Patterson said.

Even though anonymous reporting prevents law enforcement from prosecuting any of the cases, Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse Assault Coordinator Lisa Kane says she fully supports anonymous reporting.

"It's about protecting the victim. The way anonymous reporting works is, yes it will help people feel safer to report, and the other part that's really important is he or she may decide to not give their name when reporting to the police but they may choose to give other systems their name. So, therefore, nothing is preventing a victim from saying to the school, this is what happened to me," Kane said

But Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank says anonymous reports don't give his office enough information to pursue.

"An anonymous report may or may not name a suspect but without a complainant and the basic information that would lead law enforcement to believe there was a crime committed, it would probably not ever get to the District Attorney's Office. For law enforcement and criminal prosecution purposes, an anonymous report won't get anyone anywhere."

Fanning says if she believes an accused perpetrator is a threat to students, she will push to prosecute the person or use university sanctions including suspension or expulsion.

UWS' Campus Safety and Dean of Students office will be meeting Thursday with the Superior Police Department and Douglas County District Attorney's Office to talk about the handling of UWS sexual assault reports.

The UWS is not the only campus in the area that has an anonymous report policy when dealing with sexual assault. College of St. Scholastica Chief of Student Affairs Officer Steve Lyons says the college often deals with investigations internally.

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"If we have somebody that either makes an anonymous report or comes to the sexual assault report staff and names a name and says I want to do something with this but I don't want to go to the police," Lyons said. "Internally if we have a name we'll do an investigation and based on what that leads us to we'll apply sanction to that perpetrator. Everything from expulsion to whatever the appropriate, depending on the circumstance, sanction seems to be."

Michelle Meyers is the Associate Dean for Student Life at Northland College in Ashland says they have a similar policy for reporting sexual assaults. Meyers also says a group of students is looking over the policy and will be making suggestions for change soon.

"Anonymous reporting has the potential of actually allowing people to come forward more and give us a greater awareness of what might be happening, but it does make it a little bit more difficult to hold people accountable for their actions depending on what the survivor is willing to share with us," Meyers said.

Meyers says the policy was set up to encourage reporting of sexual assaults. This, she says, is half the battle when dealing with sexual assault cases.

"Unless the student is willing to come forward and let us know that something has happened, it ties our hands a little bit, she said. "We hear about it, we encourage them, but if they choose not to come in, it's not something we can make them do," she said.

Related Topics: CRIMESUPERIOR
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