(ITHACA, N.Y.) — The district attorney prosecuting a Cornell University fraternity president accused of attempted rape and sexual abuse blamed schools in general for “turning a blind eye” to the subject of underage drinking in connection with sexual assault on college campuses.
Wolfgang Ballinger, 21, a member of Psi Upsilon’s Chi Chapter at Cornell, was booked into Tompkins County, New York, Jail Thursday after a female student reported that she was sexually assaulted at the fraternity house, according to university police. Ballinger has served as president of the chapter, Psi Upsilon Executive Director Thomas Fox told ABC News.
The young woman, who is not being identified, reported the alleged incident to police on Jan. 31, telling authorities that she was sexually assaulted in a bedroom at the frat house at approximately 2 a.m. that day. She helped identify Ballinger as the alleged perpetrator, the Cornell University Police Department said.
“What I see over and over again … is the underage drinking on campuses that so often create an environment where violence, sexual assault and other things that happen in a thoughtless moment ruin people’s lives forever,” Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson told ABC News Monday.
While Wilkinson said not all sexual assaults are “done by somebody under the influence of alcohol,” she added that she considers alcohol to be “probably one of the largest contributing factors.”
“If college campuses would stop permitting, or turning a blind eye, or not enforcing underage drinking, I think we would see a very different picture,” Wilkinson said.
Ballinger is of legal drinking age.
Cornell declined to respond to the district attorney’s comments.
At the request of the police through his attorney, Ballinger turned himself in to Cornell University Police investigators on Thursday. He was charged with first-degree attempted rape, first-degree criminal sexual act and first-degree sexual abuse, university police said. Ballinger has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Ballinger’s attorney, James Baker, declined to be interviewed Monday, but told ABC News in a statement Saturday that Ballinger did not commit the crimes of which he is accused. “His innocence will be established at the proper time and in the proper place – which is in the courts, not in the media,” Baker said.
Cornell’s Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living said, as of Feb. 1, Psi Upsilon was placed “on interim suspension status as a result of alleged sexual misconduct” at the fraternity house.
“Interim suspension is a pause in the operations of a chapter during which the chapter may not engage in any activities other than operation of its residence,” the statement said.
Psi Upsilon Fraternity’s national organization said Friday that all activity at the Cornell chapter is suspended and the fraternity is cooperating with Cornell University during its investigation. Fraternity staff members are also traveling to Ithaca to help.
“Sexual assault, and any form of sexual harassment, is against our policy and in opposition of the values of Psi Upsilon,” Psi Upsilon Executive Director Thomas Fox said. “Our chapter is cooperating with Cornell’s investigation into this matter and any members involved will be held accountable. The Chi Chapter at Cornell has a distinguished history with the University and we are committed to continuing to be a benefit to Cornell and the Ithaca Community.”
Cornell University President Elizabeth Garrett said in a statement: “I am deeply disturbed by the allegations of sexual assault involving the president of Psi Upsilon. Sexual violence has no place at Cornell, and if these allegations are substantiated, those involved will be held accountable.”
“When we were notified of these allegations on Monday, February 1, Psi Upsilon was immediately placed on interim suspension pending the conclusion of a full investigation,” Garrett said. “Although I applaud the swift actions of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) to mandate additional training for its members, we will be considering what additional steps should be taken to ensure the Greek community at Cornell is living up to our institutional standard of excellence and respect for others.”
Ballinger was booked at the Tompkins County Jail Thursday in lieu of $25,000 cash bail or $50,000 bond, Cornell University Police said.
His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Ithaca City Court.
Wilkinson said that she’s confident about the strength of the prosecution’s case going into tomorrow’s hearing.
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