Letter to the Editor: Catherine Bentley and Oumou Cisse

**TRIGGER WARNING — Sexual Violence**

 

To the Editor,

 

On Wednesday, March 16, Thomas Skoog was arrested on Lawrence University’s campus for five counts of possession of child pornography under Wisconsin Statute 948.12(1m). What is even worse than these horrendous offenses is the fact that a large portion of the student body is not the least bit surprised by his arrest.

Why? Our reaction, and subsequent outrage, is due to the fact that Lawrence University allowed Skoog, known community-wide as a rapist, back on campus this past fall. To make matters worse, upon return, Skoog was placed on the fifth floor of a primarily freshman residence hall.

In 2015, Skoog was found in violation of Lawrence University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, specifically for committing second-degree rape, after a long and tedious investigation. During this time, Lawrence University not only allowed him to remain on campus, but also did not support his victim during the trial. The victim was forced to interact with him at his on-campus job. After the verdict, Skoog had to leave school until his victim had completed undergraduate education, thus allowing him back this fall.

Many survivors spoke directly with President Burstein, Vice President for Student Affairs Nancy Truesdell, Title IX Coordinator Bob Williams and the Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources & Education (SHARE) group expressing deep concern not only about his physical presence back on campus, but also about the institutional support this decision offered him, a rapist, when they did not do anything to accommodate his victim.

When I, Oumou, spoke to Williams, he unacceptably told me, “If you or other survivors feel unsafe or emotionally triggered, I highly recommend going to Counseling Services.” In addition, upon reporting my own rape, I, Catherine, was told by a member of SHARE that “this [kind of] thing wasn’t even considered illegal when I was your age, so you’ll get over it.” I ended up not filing a complete report.

Lawrence is a school that, like many others, protects perpetrators and neglects survivors to save its reputation and purport a community of safety and individualized care. The case of Thomas Skoog is one in many that Lawrence has traumatically mishandled, dissuading survivors from coming forward. This puts us at risk even more, as we must advocate for our own safety on our own campus.

After his arrest on March 16, Skoog was merely suspended by the school and an email was sent out reassuring the student body that “no one in the Lawrence community is in any danger related to the alleged crime.” What the author of that email and the rest of Lawrence University fail to recognize is we have always been in danger due to the FIRST crime he committed: the rape of a student.

If Skoog had raped her outside of campus grounds, he would be in jail. Why is it any different because it happened in a dorm room? It is high time Lawrence University stops masquerading as anything but what it is — a self-interested institution.

 

Sincerely,

— Catherine Bentley and Oumou Cisse, class of 2016

 

 

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