Police outline response in wake of 3 sexual assaults near UW campus

Sexual assaults harder for police to prevent since officers 'can't necessarily pinpoint when or where they'll occur'

MADISON, Wis. – A series of three sexual assaults near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in three weeks has left a number of people in the area on edge. 

“One assault is too many,” Madison Police Department public information officer Hunter Lisko said. “We’re incredibly dismayed to see that more than one has occurred.”

From Sept. 27 to Oct. 9, three sexual assaults, all perpetrated by strangers, happened just off campus in neighborhoods mainly populated by students. MPD says they have been working to address these incidents when they happen, but it’s hard to prevent what they can’t predict.

“These things happen and we can’t predict them and we can’t necessarily pinpoint when or where they’ll occur, so it’s unfortunate that we’re seeing them in our city,” Lisko said. “When they happen, our patrol officers are making diligent efforts to do investigations the day of or the evening of when these occur, and our detectives are doing some really thoughtful follow-up.”

Lisko said the assaults are likely concentrated in the downtown area due to the nature of the neighborhood.

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“Our universities, a lot of our major apartment buildings and most of our bars are concentrated in a very close area,” he said, “so that obviously creates a perfect storm of circumstances where people strike, and unfortunately, these are, a lot of times, crimes of opportunity.”

There are steps people can take to keep themselves safe, he stressed.

“Please, please, please be on the safe side. It takes one second to flip that door lock,” Lisko said. “ Especially for my folks that live in apartment buildings, hear me when I say, while it’s really polite to hold the door open for strangers, don’t do it. If there’s someone following you in behind you at the main apartment door, don’t let them in.”

Dana Pellebon, the executive director of the Madison Rape Crisis Center, said while these steps can help minimize risk, it’s important to lay blame in the right place.

“The important thing to note is that the number one prevention tool is for perpetrators to not perpetrate sexual assault,” Pellebon said. “I don’t want to give people a false sense of security that if you do A, B and C that that will prevent something from happening.”

She also said hearing about these events can be triggering for survivors.

“If you are feeling triggered or this is bringing up something from your past and you want to talk about it, we’re here and available to talk 24 hours a day to you,” Pellebon said. “We also have advocates that you can meet with one on one that can help you process any emotional reaction to what it is that you’re seeing in the news.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, there are resources available. The Rape Crisis Center in Madison has a 24-hour hotline at 608-251-7273 for English speakers and 608-258-2567 for Spanish speakers. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can also be reached 24/7 at 800-656-4673.