Student receives five-year prison sentence in sexual assault

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Jonah Beleckis | September 21, 2016

JEFFERSON—A former UW-Whitewater graduate student was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday for sexually assaulting a female student who had moved to this country from China the day before.

Ruoyu Zhang, 27, was convicted in Jefferson County Court on Aug. 30 of third-degree sexual assault and false imprisonment of the then-19-year-old student.

At his sentencing, Judge Randy Koschnick also ordered five years of extended supervision.

The assault took place in the victim's dorm room Aug. 25, 2015, after Zhang had helped her move into Wells West residence hall.

After taking her shopping and helping her with errands, Zhang that night pinned the victim's arms and had sex with her, despite her repeatedly telling him to stop, according to testimony from the jury trial.

Zhang admitted that he had sex with the victim, with whom he had been communicating for about a month on the messaging app WeChat, but said he interpreted her “no” as playful and not serious.

Prosecutor Monica Hall said Tuesday the victim was deeply damaged by the incident, in part because she had never had sex or kissed someone.

“She was victimized by someone she trusted who was supposed to help her adjust,” Hall said. “He robbed her of her ability to have positive memories of her first sexual experiences.”

Zhang originally was tried and found not guilty on a second-degree sexual assault charge, which differs from third-degree assault because it includes the threat or use of force.

Hall praised the victim for being brave enough to report a sexual assault and attend the trial.

“Not everyone goes forward and reports what happened to them,” Hall said. “I am pleased that she was willing to tell 12 strangers what happened to her and to allow the justice system to work.”

The victim submitted a written statement, read by Koschnick, about her state of mind after the assault. She wrote that she cannot eat well and was having trouble sleeping.

“I have nightmares night after night,” she wrote. “When I am awake, all I see are scenes of when that monster was obscenely violating me.”

The victim wrote that her mother still cries frequently when thinking about what happened and no longer wants her to interact with male classmates.

Zhang declined to speak in court Tuesday.

Through a translator, Zhang's mother, who came from China with his father for the hearing, spoke of her son's academic record and potential. She said his grandparents are in their 80s, and she hoped they would get a chance to see him again.

“He is our only child, our source of hope and happiness for our family,” she said. “The United States is said to be a country with great empathy, which is also one of the reasons Ruoyu came to study here in the first place.”

Hall said Zhang needs rehabilitation and does not understand why the assault was “so very deeply wrong.”

Koschnick said ignorance of the law is not a defense, but he noted that it was unprecedented to impose a maximum sentence—eight years in prison—on someone without a prior record.

Still, Koschnick said he did not want to accept the defense's recommendation of no prison time because that would not act as a deterrent for others.

Zhang is in the country on a limited student visa and will be deported after he serves his sentence, defense attorney Sydne French said.

After he was convicted Aug. 30, Zhang had to be carried out of the courtroom by a bailiff and two UW-Whitewater officers while he screamed and cried. French said she had never seen that kind of reaction after a trial.

Tuesday after sentencing, he left the courtroom without a sound.

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