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UConn allegedly knew of abuse by Fine Arts professor in 2003

This investigation contains strong language and sexual topics that may not be appropriate for all readers.

This investigation is a follow-up to an investigation published on May 8, 2022.

A former University of Connecticut student has come forward and alleged that she was sexually assaulted by former School of Fine Arts (SFA) Professor Frank Noelker in 2003. She claims she reported it to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), UConn Police and State Police, and nothing was done, allowing Noelker to continue abusing students for almost two decades.

“I tried every avenue I could possibly think of to prevent this predator from continuing his behavior,” Katie said. “And here we are 17 years later, and I find out that there are numerous, numerous victims that came after me.”

Frank Noelker with his wife, Laurie Sloan, in 2003 at the Center for Great Apes in Florida. Photo taken by Katie.

As previously reported, the recently retired Noelker was found to have engaged in sexual misconduct with students in a 2018 report conducted by OIE. Instead of moving to dismiss Noelker, the University cut a deal with him to keep him on as a full-time professor.

The events detailed in the report spanned from 2011 to 2018, but Katie says that in 2003, Noelker took her to his home, got on top of her and forcibly put his hands up her shirt to grab her breasts, then attempted to remove her pants.

Katie was a student at UConn’s School of Fine Arts from 2000 to 2005. Her first personal encounter with Noelker happened after her second Basic Photography class with him in 2001. Noelker was having students work on a project about something they had struggled with in life. Katie broke down emotionally during class. According to Katie, Noelker asked her to come to his office after class, she obliged, and Noelker immediately told her about his abusive childhood, a subject which several of Noelker’s former students reported that he often talked about.

After Katie’s meeting with Noelker in his office, she said Noelker took a special interest in her and her work. In 2002, He and his wife took her and two other students on a road trip to the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida over spring break, where he would photograph the chimps and orangutans that lived in the sanctuary. Noelker and his wife paid all the expenses for the trip, according to Katie.

“We [the students] would help out around the property, sort of get this cool experience, you know, volunteer some of our time and labor,” Katie said. “So, of course, I thought ‘that’s an amazing opportunity and went to Florida and back with no particular weirdness or anything.”

From right to left: anonymous male student, sanctuary employee, anonymous female student, Katie, Laurie Sloan, sanctuary employee, Frank Noelker, sanctuary employee.

Upon returning to Florida, Katie had a string of bad luck. The work-study jobs she financially relied on were cut from the school’s budget, then her bike was stolen.

“I lived in an apartment off-campus, Huntington Lodge, so my bicycle was really critical to getting around,” Katie said. “And it was like during finals week, that, maybe in an email I mentioned to Frank, you know, ‘my bike was stolen. And he said, ‘Oh, you know, my wife has an old bike that’s just sitting in our garage. You can have it.’”

According to Katie, Noelker drove to her apartment, picked her up, drove her back to his house and invited her inside. Once inside, Noelker told her to sit on the couch.

“I sat on the very far opposite side of the couch from him, but he sort of grabbed my ankle and started giving me a foot massage,” Katie said. “And I didn’t really know what to make of it, so I just kind of froze and tried to talk about anything benign and sort of pretend it’s not happening.”

But, according to Katie, Noelker steered the conversation toward sex. He asked her about her boyfriend and if they were sexually active. Then he asked her what her favorite sexual position was, Katie said.

“At this point, I’m really scared because I realize this is predatory questioning,” Katie said. “I just [said], ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ tried to, like, laugh it off. And he then volunteered that his favorite sexual position was doggy-style because he enjoyed how his balls could hit the woman’s clit while he’s fucking her.”

Katie said Noelker then offered to take nude photos of her, she declined. He then asked to see her breasts, she declined. Then, according to Katie, Noelker got on top of her, straddled her, and forced his hands up her shirt and began massaging her breasts, and told her how beautiful they were.

“I was in total frozen mode, out of body experience,” Katie said. “‘This isn’t happening’ kind of thing, right?” Then he put his hands on my jeans where my zipper was and started to unzip my pants. And I, like, grabbed [her jeans] and held my pants together.”

“And he said another thing I specifically remember because it was very odd,” Katie said. “He said, ‘Can I please see your sex,’ as though he was using sex as a noun to describe my anatomy.”

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She said no and told Noelker that she was late handing in a final exam. Noelker offered to drive her back to campus, according to Katie. She accepted and when she turned in her paper for her women’s studies class, she told the graduate student teaching the class what had happened. That former graduate student, who requested her name not be used for privacy reasons, confirmed Katie told her what happened and recalled specific details of Katie’s account of the alleged assault.

That night, Katie went to the UConn Police Department to report a sexual assault. She was told that because it happened off-campus at Noelker’s house, it was out of UConn Police’s jurisdiction. So she waited for a State Trooper to take her statement.

However, when an officer did show up, he didn’t give any clear guidance on what to do, according to Katie. Fearing that her identity would be revealed and her college career would be ruined if Noelker’s arrest became a public spectacle, she told State Police that she didn’t want him arrested, but wanted a record of it, in case Noelker ever assaulted another student.

Attempts to obtain Katie’s report to State Police were unsuccessful. They destroy records of reports every 10 years unless it’s a guilty verdict or DNA was collected.

From there, Katie said she told another SFA professor about what happened. That professor urged her to report it to the Office of Institutional Equity. So she did, and OIE took her account, then took Noelker’s account. Katie said the only action OIE took was to require Noelker not to contact her in any way again.

But Noelker did contact her again, Katie said.

“I saw him continually in the halls on campus, and then one day he followed me across the street to a convenience store,” Katie said. “He approached me on the street and basically gave me this story about how he’s sorry about the confusion that happened, but he, ‘was fucked up on Prozac,’ and just trying not to kill himself.”

Katie said she immediately told OIE that Noelker had approached her and talked to her, but she is not aware if he was disciplined in any way. UConn did not comply with a FOIA request pursuant to Katie’s OIE report. UConn declined to provide a comment or answer questions for this story.

“It definitely affected my performance not only as an art student but as a student overall,” Katie said. “Because now on top of already being in a difficult personal situation with finances and everything, I was trying to manage the trauma of having been assaulted by someone I trusted, who worked as an authority figure in the department that I was supposed to be graduating from.”

Making matters worse for Katie, she had a required class with Noelker’s wife, Laurie Sloan, another SFA professor. Katie was worried that Noelker might have told his wife an alternate version of events to paint her as a liar and would affect the student-teacher relationship or her grade. Katie said she was able to talk to the Dean of the SFA at the time and get the class dropped.

“I ended up dropping another class that semester because I was a mess and I was just trying to avoid being in the art building as much as I possibly could, because every time I ran into [Noelker], I thought it was going to throw up,” Katie said. “Imagine being [art concentration] and having your number one goal be to avoid the fucking art building.”

Noelker declined to comment for this story. However, Noelker seemingly addresses the incident in the 2018 OIE report. In the report, Student N said that Noelker told her that she would, “look good in a burlap bag,” and, after seeing her leave a meeting with another faculty member, told her to “be careful with some people around here,” referring to other faculty members.

Student N said that on another occasion, Noelker brought her to his house to use software used to review graduate applications and pick up some things for a class. He apparently only had that software on his home computer. According to the report, Student N sat on the couch while she waited for Noelker to retrieve his things. Noelker then sat on the couch and told her that a student had once taken off her clothes at his house, and he responded to the student by saying he was married and “doesn’t do that.” He then told Student N that he was accused of something regarding the incident with that student.

Noelker further elaborated on those comments to the OIE investigator in 2018. He said that about 15 years ago a student who was having some personal issues visited his home. He said he wanted to help her as a friend and a mentor. He said the student was lying on his couch and began to slide towards him which caused her shirt to begin to lift up. He said he responded by saying he did not want to see her breasts. Noelker said that he later learned that the student told other students that she just wanted to get him in trouble, according to the report.

OIE credited Student N’s account of what happened in the report. 

In 2018, around the time Noelker was being investigated by OIE, Noelker was acting erratically in class and had a meltdown in front of his students, according to a former student who wished to remain anonymous. The former student said the concept behind the photos she took upset Noelker and triggered his outburst.

“I was trying to combine the idea of like a journalist approach with an artistic approach, and [Noelker] got really frustrated because he was telling me that didn’t know any successful photographer that was able to do that,” the former student said.

Other students in the class spoke up in defense of the former student which only made matters worse. A classroom debate ensued and Noelker became angry and told students that they need to listen to him because he was more experienced in photography and life, according to the former student. Feeling like she had cause the whole ordeal, the former student became upset.

“That day I had one of the worst anxiety attacks and I ran out of the class crying and hyperventilating,” the student said. “When I got back in the classroom Frank [Noelker] was crying on the shoulder of another student,” the former student said. “And he was just going into how when he was a child he was raped by his neighbor and how it’s so hard for him and it was just so bizarre to see that in a classroom, at a school I pay thousands of dollars to attend.”

As previously reported, that same OIE report found that Noelker violated the University’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence when he invited a female student (Student B) into his house to give her a gift and attempted to give her a massage, engaged in a sexually explicit conversation with the student and purchased her a book containing a collection of erotic short stories.

The report also contained several more troubling findings and accusations that OIE noted, “reflect conduct that raises questions regarding professional judgment and appropriate boundaries.”

Resources:

Connecticut Sexual Assault Hotline
You can be immediately connected with services in your area by calling the toll free sexual assault hotline:
Statewide 24 Hour Toll-Free Hotline 1.888.999.5545 English 1.888.568.8332 Spanish

Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence: All sexual assault advocacy services are free and confidential. https://endsexualviolencect.org/

RAINN: https://www.rainn.org/

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Tom Hopkins

A national, award-winning journalist from Bristol, Tom has a passion for writing. Prior to joining CII, he worked in print, television, and as a freelance journalist. He has taken deep dives into sexual assault allegations by Connecticut professors, uncovered issues at state-run prisons, and covered evictions in the New Britain Herald. He chose to focus on issues based in Connecticut because this is his home, and this is where he wants his work to make the greatest impact.

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