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Witness: ‘I Thought It Was a Sex Assault That Onlookers Watched’

March 22, 1991

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ A student who says he called police to report a sexual assault on a college fraternity lawn says about eight people stood nearby and watched the woman and man engaged in sex and did not intervene.

″The people were being quiet, they were saying, ’Shhh, let them be,‴ said the student, who says he watched the March 10 incident on the lawn of the University of Wisconsin’s Chi Phi fraternity from the porch of a neighboring fraternity.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the student said he called police after the woman and man got up from the lawn because she appeared disoriented.

″It didn’t seem like she knew what was going on. I ran up to her after the police arrived and said, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’ and she didn’t say anything. She just stared,″ he said.

The student, a member of the Theta Chi fraternity, spoke to the AP on the condition he not be identified. He said he feared possible retribution from the man involved in the incident.

Police said they had not identified the man and had not determined if it was a case of sexual assault.

Chi Phi fraternity president Benjamin Schomburg told the AP earlier that several people watched the incident from inside the frat house, where about 200 people were attending a beer party, but did not intervene because they didn’t think it was an assault.

The 18-year-old woman told police she was sexually assaulted.

Julie Knudsen, 21, a student, said she was one of seven people from the fraternity party who watched the man and woman for two minutes.

″The girl was not resisting at all. She showed absolutely no signs of resisting,″ Miss Knudsen said.

Given that the woman has told police that she was sexually assaulted, Miss Knudsen said she now feels ″very bad″ she didn’t intervene. ″I was the only female. If the girl would have looked like she wanted help we would have done something.″

At one point, a person watching yelled, ″Get a room,‴ Mis Knudsen recalled. When the man got up ″he said, ‘Look, I don’t need a ‘expletive’ audience here,‴ Miss Knudsen said.

Knudsen, and the Theta Chi member who said he called police, were among about a dozen in the neighborhood at the time of the party and interviewed by AP reporters.

The Theta Chi member said he first spotted the man and woman on the lawn from an upstairs window at his fraternity. He said he later went down to the porch and stood less than 20 feet from the two.

He said he counted about eight people, some of them women, watching from the lawn and the street.

He said he decided to call police after watching the woman get up.

″It became obvious she was not completely with it. She wasn’t really walking all that well. It didn’t seem like she knew what was going on,″ the student said.

″It just wasn’t apparent that it may have been a sexual assault, until it was over,″ he said. ″She just wasn’t standing on her own all that well. She wasn’t speaking.″

The initial police report quoted witness accounts that 25 to 30 people stood around the couple and cheered them on, but follow-up interviews refuted that initial report, said police spokeswoman Dorothy Spicer.

The student said spectators never cheered. He said the crowd grew from eight to about 25 to 30 people after police arrived.

″They were pretty calm. They certainly weren’t cheering. Everybody was trying to figure out what was going on,″ he said.

Police refused to allow the AP to see the initial report. The AP filed a request Thursday to see the report under the state open records law. Ms. Spicer said Friday the Madison police department was reviewing the request.

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