Hundreds march in protest down State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, by Oliver Ortega
Angered by the case of serial rape suspect Alec Cook and the election of a presidential candidate accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault, hundreds of University of Wisconsin-Madison students and allies marched through campus and downtown's bustling corridor of bars and restaurants Wednesday night, one of several protests held throughout the country following Donald Trump's startling defeat of Hillary Clinton.
Organizers in Madison began planning the march after Cook was charged late last month with assaulting five women during his two years as a student at UW-Madison. But interest in the event peaked as it became clear that Trump, a former reality TV star-turned presidential contender, would be occupying the Oval Office next year.
More than 150 people signed up for the Madison event overnight, according to Dayna Long, one of the coordinators. Thousands of people also marched Wednesday night in New York, Chicago, Columbus, Oakland, and other cities to protest Trump's election, according to news reports.
In Madison, the procession of more than 300 people, some holding signs with messages such as "Not My President" and "UW Doesn't Care About Sexual Assault," blocked traffic downtown at times, before wending through UW's fraternity and sorority row back to Library Mall, where women took the loudspeaker to share stories about being assaulted on campus and elsewhere.
"We deserve better where we work, we deserve better where we go to school, and our country deserves better than Donald Trump," Long told the crowd.
Last month, Cook's case drew national attention as more victims came forward, especially against the backdrop of Trump's controversy-plagued campaign, including the infamous "grab 'em by the pussy" comment caught on tape, and growing scrutiny of how colleges and law enforcement handle sexual assault on campus.
At UW-Madison, 27.6 percent female students reported experiencing sexual assault since entering college, according to a school survey last fall— slightly more than the national average of 23.1 percent.
UW-Madison is already under scrutiny as the Department of Justice investigates its handling of four other cases of sexual violence, out of nearly 300 cases authorities are looking into across 215 U.S. colleges.
While UW-Madison is an esteemed research university, ranking twenty-nine out of 1,000 in the world according to U.S. News & World Report, it was also highlighted as the nation's top party college in a separate survey this year.
Erin Thornley-Parisi, executive director of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, said she has seen many cases like that of Cook, though most attackers don't keep a written account. The center handles around 550 cases a year.
With Trump’s election, as well as the campaign he has run over the past year and half, Thornley-Parisi said she believes strides made against combating rape culture have eroded and may continue to do so under the billionaire’s presidency.
"I do think there will be an effect, and I do think there has been an effect," Thornley-Parisi says. "This is a man who has objectified women, and he feels complete entitlement to women's bodies. That will have an effect for people who can be persuaded easily or who need an excuse for their behavior."
The university began a new prevention program for all new students in response to last year's findings, and Thornley-Parisi said local police department have improved their approach to investigating such incidents.
Cook is next scheduled to appear in court later this month.
Irma Hernandez, a sophomore from Los Angeles studying political science, said she came out to the protest because she was concerned rape culture on campus would get worse with Trump's election.
"There are some serious questions we as a community at UW, and across the country, need to ask ourselves," Hernandez said, "And now that this man has been elected, we have to wonder: are things going to get worse?"
Oliver Ortega is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin.