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Former Cornell fraternity president gets probation in sex offense case

Cornell University buildings viewed from McGraw Tower. (iStock)

A former fraternity president at Cornell University who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense was sentenced Tuesday to six years of probation.

Wolfgang Ballinger was a 21-year-old junior last year when he was charged with first-degree attempted rape, first-degree criminal sex act with a helpless victim and sexual misconduct after a woman told police about an incident at the Psi Upsilon house on campus.

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Earlier this year Ballinger, who is no longer enrolled at Cornell, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, forcible touching.

The victim is a student at Cornell, according to her attorney Cari Simon. She read a searing impact statement in court Tuesday describing terror and confusion. She said that he introduced himself as a student from a different fraternity. “There was no reason to believe he had given me a fake name or to assume he was lying. I had no way of recognizing the perverse manipulation that I was already experiencing or that I was being set up. That Wolfgang Ballinger had placed a target on me, and my life would change completely because of him.

” … Seeing him for the first time since my assault made my heart stop. He was simply walking down the sidewalk for grand jury, just after I had finished giving my testimony. This was only the second time I had ever seen him in person. I am strong, but seeing his face turned my legs to Jell-O and I truly couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t speak.”

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Ballinger’s attorney, Sarah Wesley, did not immediately comment Tuesday afternoon.

The Cornell Daily Sun reported that she told the court that Ballinger had been taking classes at Hunter College and New York University and getting good grades.

Campus sexual assault has been an issue at colleges across the country. A high-profile trial last year of a case at Stanford University drew national attention — and outrage from victims’ advocates and others — when a former student found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster was not given prison time but was ordered to register as a sex offender, sentenced to six months in county jail and then probation. There has been anger, too, over harsh punishments for accused students in cases which  pit one student’s word against another’s.

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Ballinger’s six-year probation includes numerous restrictions on his behavior, according to court documents, including providing a DNA sample, periodic testing for alcohol and drug use, and allowing his phone and Internet usage to be monitored. He cannot possess or use alcohol, or be in a place where it’s sold as drinks; an exception was made for a business his family owns. He is to avoid contact with people younger than 18, unless he is granted approval for a written plan of supervised contact; another exception was granted to allow him to spend time with young family members. He is also to inform people such as landlords and employers of  his sex offense.

“We were ready to go to trial on the felony charges,” said Matthew Van Houten, the district attorney for Tompkins County, N.Y. “We were simultaneously negotiating for a potential plea resolution that would allow the victim to avoid the trauma of going through a trial.”

The probation report recommended incarceration, Van Houten said. “However, the plea agreement restricted our recommendation to either probation or a fine. I’m pleased that the court imposed the six years of probation” and a fine, he said. “Mr. Ballinger’s attorney was arguing for community service.

“Based upon the fact that Mr. Ballinger never expressed remorse, didn’t take the opportunity to speak at sentencing, I think it’s appropriate that he be under the supervision of probation to drive home the consequence of his actions and hopefully provide some level of counseling so hopefully he gets some insight into what happened.”

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The victim also wrote: “Over and over again, he would ask me if I was okay with him touching me and over and over again I would tell him no. He ignored my pleas begging him to stop, but none of it mattered. I didn’t understand that he genuinely wanted to assault me.”

” … He needs to be humbled and understand that even a president of a top fraternity is not allowed to violate whomever they please without permission. No matter how much money or status he has, it doesn’t let him take what he likes without consequence. Because there will be consequences. I will not stop. You cannot break me.”

Ballinger did not speak at the sentencing hearing.

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The victim wrote in her sentencing statement: “The day I went to the hospital for my rape kit, I had to first wait for another woman to finish being seen. When the nurse finally arrived at my room, she looked at me with sad, sunken eyes. ‘On average, 1 in 10 rapes are reported. That means 20 girls were likely assaulted last night because two of you went to the police today.’ I just looked back at her quietly.

“I didn’t feel lucky to be one of the women with the courage to come forward, I only felt grief.

“I am standing here today for the 18 other women that wanted to deal with their assault on their own terms.”