By Evan Casey | Wisconsin Public Radio

A violent attack that left a University of Wisconsin-Madison student hospitalized over the weekend has some students concerned for their safety during the first week of the new school year.

The attack occurred in downtown Madison early Sunday morning, hours after the first Wisconsin Badgers football game of the season. It came as students returned to campus, preparing for a new school year. 

Maggie Kahn, communications coordinator for PAVE UW-Madison, said the timing of the incident is concerning to her. That group — Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment — is a student organization focused on violence prevention. 

“I think people are definitely alarmed and disheartened to hear about this incident, considering everybody just got back, it’s supposed to be a time of happiness and excitement for the year to come,” Kahn said. 

Madison police said the victim is a UW-Madison student in her 20s. Officers were called to the area near W. Wilson and Bedford Street at around 3:20 a.m., according to an incident report. They found the victim with life-threatening injuries and later confirmed she had been physically and sexually assaulted 

“Our officers rendered aid to her, and she was transported to an area hospital where she is receiving treatment at this time,” Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said during a Sunday press conference. 

Barnes also said he believes the attack was likely a random one. 

UW-Madison senior Madeline Becker lives two blocks from where the attack occurred. She’s lived in Madison her entire life, and has never felt unsafe — which is why this incident was surprising to her. 

“I tend to not think of Madison as a very scary place, so I was a little taken aback that something so horrible could happen so nearby,” Becker said. 

Madison Police Assistant Chief Paige Valenta said officers are still in the process of collecting evidence. 

“I want to assure the victim, the family and our community that the police department will leave no stone unturned to hold accountable the person or persons who committed this violent attack,” Valenta said. 

But Valenta also said everyone in the community should remain “on alert” and be “proactive about their own safety” in the coming days. 

“Please consider walking with someone else, particularly at night, staying aware of your surroundings,” she said. “If you are going out, let someone know where you are going and when you arrive.” 

Following the New Student Convocation on Tuesday, UW-Madison Police Department Chief Kristen Roman and Lori Reesor, first vice chancellor for student affairs, spoke to reporters about the incident, and acknowledged the attack has rattled some students and families.

“Whenever a traumatic event like this happens, it also has great impact on people who have also experienced other traumatic events who are just anxious and fearful for themselves as well,” Reesor said.

The university has been working to get the message out to students about resources available, including the new BadgerSAFE app, which has safety resources and safety alerts. That was especially important for first-year students, who aren’t yet familiar with campus, and for their families, Reesor said. 

“As a parent or family member, it also feels scary when you hear about these tragic and scary events,” Reesor said.

While Madison Police are leading the investigation, Roman said campus police have increased patrols both on and off campus, including in the area where the attack occurred.

University officials are also urging students to take extra precautions, including making sure not to walk alone. “Obviously when you have something of this nature occur, and in this case we know that because the suspect has not been yet been apprehended, we just want our students to take those added precautions and have more than the usual amount of situational awareness,” Roman said.

Kahn said she was encouraged by the prompt response from the university and police. But she also believes some students often feel unsafe on or near the campus.

“Overall, in this college campus, it can be scary to walk home alone, especially at night,” she said.  “I know a lot of girls and women on campus don’t always feel super safe, even when they’re walking in pairs.”

Rachel Nasatir, a junior at UW-Madison, recently returned to Madison after spending her summer in Chicago. She said she wants to see an increased police presence throughout the area, especially at night. She used to work at a restaurant downtown and said she’d often feel unsafe while walking back home. 

“Overall, (police) presence should be increased, just on State Street for sure, a lot of the side streets, just in the alleys; it can get a little bit interesting at night and at certain times of the day,” Nasatir said. 

In addition to the attack on the student, the university is dealing with questions about the collapse of a pier the Memorial Union Terrace Monday. Hundreds of students had gathered at the terrace on Labor Day for welcome events, and the pier was packed with people when it suddenly buckled, sending dozens into the water.

Campus police said 20 to 25 people reported minor injuries. Paramedics treated five people at the scene and one person was hospitalized. The university put out a statement saying the incident was under investigation.

Robert D’Andrea contributed to this report. 

This story was produced by Wisconsin Public Radio and is being republished by permission. See the original story here.