By BRYNA GODAR
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin legislators are proposing a bill that would ensure sexual assault victims and others who report such crimes can’t be cited or disciplined for underage drinking.
Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, introduced the bill Monday at a news conference, saying the goal is to provide peace of mind to underage victims when they’re deciding whether to report an assault.
“The fear of consequences for drinking should never come in the way of a victim seeking help and being treated by medical professionals after a horrific crime of sexual assault,” said Attorney General Brad Schimel, who attended the news conference and supports the proposal.
Schimel said Wisconsin colleges and police departments typically don’t discipline or cite people for underage drinking if they’re victims of sexual assault or reported the crime. The bill’s supporters say this measure would solidify that practice in state law and encourage more reports.
About 80 percent of rape and sexual assault victimizations of students are not reported to police, according to a 2014 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report.
University of Wisconsin-Madison Assistant Police Chief Kari Sasso said that surveys and conversations with survivors show that the fear of getting in trouble can be one of the many barriers to reporting sexual assault.
Sasso said the department practice for approximately the past five years has been not to cite victims or those who report assaults for underage drinking. She said the department has seen an increase in reporting of sexual assaults over the past several years.
“There is no other crime that goes so underreported,” Schimel said.
Ballweg said she hopes the legislation will be passed this session. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he is reviewing the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman said he plans to discuss the proposal with the GOP caucus.