Matiullah Matie, a 40-year-old who man who, along with his family, is among the first Afghan refugees to be resettled in Wausau, was arrested in connection with a sexual assault investigation. (Photo by Julian Emerson)
Matiullah Matie, a 40-year-old who man who, along with his family, is among the first Afghan refugees to be resettled in Wausau, was arrested in connection with a sexual assault investigation. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

“This doesn’t define all Afghan refugees any more than other crimes characterize residents from any other background,” mayor says.

An Afghan man who was among the first refugees of that nation to be resettled in Wausau and who received widespread media coverage, including by UpNorthNews, was arrested Monday in connection to a sexual assault investigation, but resettlement leaders say that incident does not represent the 85 Afghan refugees expected to relocate to Wausau this year.

Matiullah Matie, 40, was arrested by Wausau police following a complaint filed Feb. 2 by an acquaintance who was assisting the family with resettlement and said the assault occurred in a vehicle. Matie was released on bond and police have recommended a charge of fourth-degree sexual assault, which is having sexual contact without a person’s consent. 

Matie is an Afghan businessman who, along with his wife and four children, were among the first Afghan refugees who will resettle in Wausau after they fled their homes in August when the Taliban retook control of that country. 

Adam Van Noord, director of the Wausau Multicultural Community Center that is overseeing the resettlement effort, said the arrest is an extremely unfortunate incident but it does not represent the Afghan people who began arriving in Wausau on Dec. 29. 

RELATED: How Wausau Leaders Aim to Give Afghan Refugees ‘a New Beginning’

Likewise, Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg, a vocal supporter of the refugee resettlement effort, expressed her dismay at the arrest in a statement to media. 

“I was stunned and heartbroken to hear that a woman who was working to assist Wausau’s new refugee arrivals in their resettlement reported that she was sexually assaulted by one of the refugees,” Rosenberg said. “This alleged crime is absolutely unacceptable. My expectations of everyone in our community are that they understand the boundaries and rights of women and men and the legal consequences of violating them.” 

Despite the seriousness of the allegation, Rosenberg said it is important to remember that the alleged act isn’t indicative of other Afghan refugees. 

“This doesn’t define all Afghan refugees any more than other crimes characterize residents from any other background,” she said. Those involved with refugee resettlement in Wausau said they worry Matie’s arrest could spur more anti-refugee sentiment in the community. Some of that has already been happening, they said, but it has been outweighed by the support of many who have donated items to Afghan refugee families and are assisting them in other ways.