15% of UT women re­port be­ing raped

‘Shock­ing’ sur­vey re­sults re­vealed at Capi­tol hear­ing.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

A sur­vey of Univer­sity of Texas un­der­grad­u­ates found that 15 per­cent of women re­ported be­ing raped while en­rolled at the Austin cam­pus.

The sur­vey re­sult, re­vealed Thurs­day dur­ing a Capi­tol hear­ing on four bills to ad­dress what was de­scribed as an “epi­demic” of sex­ual as­saults on col­lege cam­puses, jolted sev­eral se­na­tors and brought prom­ises of ac­tion from univer­sity of­fi­cials.

“Fif­teen per­cent? That is just shock­ing to me,” said state Sen. Jane Nel­son, R-Flower Mound.

State Sen. Joan Huff­man, au­thor of one of the bills dis­cussed dur­ing Thurs­day’s meet­ing of the Se­nate State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said the re­sult from the soon-to-bere­leased sur­vey un­der­lined the need for ac­tion.

“It’s be­yond trou­bling. It’s shock­ing, it’s un­ac­cept­able and it has to stop,” said Huff­man, R-Hous­ton.

Ac­cord­ing to UT spokesman

J.B. Bird, 15 per­cent of un­der­grad­u­ate women re­cently sur­veyed at the Austin cam­pus re­ported hav­ing been raped, “ei­ther through force, threat of force, in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion or other forms of co­er­cion such as lies and ver­bal pres­sure.”

The re­sult, which will be in­cluded as part of a wide-rang­ing re­port on sex­ual as­sault and mis­con­duct at all 13 in­sti­tu­tions in the UT Sys­tem, was “highly dis­turb­ing,” Bird ac­knowl­edged.

“UT Austin is com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct by speak­ing about it openly and de­vel­op­ing pro­grams and ini­tia­tives to end sex­ual vi­o­lence, change be­hav­iors and dis­ci­pline of­fend­ers,” he said.

“The first in­jus­tice com­mit­ted in ev­ery as­sault or in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior is the act it­self, but the sec­ond in­jus­tice is of­ten the si­lence of the community sur­round­ing the sur­vivor,” UT Pres­i­dent Gre­gory L. Fenves said. “We must not be silent any­more, and we must not be afraid to face the very real prob­lems that ex­ist at our univer­sity and in so­ci­ety in gen­eral.”

4 bills of­fered

Se­na­tors be­gan work Thurs­day on re­lated bills, in­clud­ing three by state Sen. Kirk Wat­son, D-Austin, to be­gin ad­dress­ing the prob­lem.

The bi­par­ti­san ef­fort would make it harder for uni­ver­si­ties to cover up sex­ual as­saults — pro­vid­ing bet­ter cam­pus safety data for par­ents and prospec­tive stu­dents — while mak­ing it eas­ier to re­port at­tacks in­volv­ing stu­dents.

Huff­man’s pro­posal, Se­nate Bill 576, would re­quire em­ploy­ees of pub­lic and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties to re­port al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault, ha­rass­ment and dat­ing vi­o­lence to the school’s Ti­tle IX co­or­di­na­tor. Those who fail to re­port an al­le­ga­tion would be fired and could face up to 180 days in jail, though em­ploy­ees found to have in­ten­tion­ally con­cealed a sex­ual as­sault could spend up to one year in jail.

“There has to be teeth, and they need to be sharp,” Huff­man told the State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

Stu­dent of­fi­cers — such as lead­ers of fra­ter­ni­ties, soror­i­ties and other or­ga­ni­za­tions — also would be re­quired to re­port as­saults they had wit­nessed or were told about. Vi­o­la­tors would face ex­pul­sion.

“I think this bill ... is a good step to­wards trans­parency. Un­til we can un­der­stand the num­bers and see what is hap­pen­ing in our higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, it’s hard to fix the prob­lem,” Huff­man said.

Huff­man said her pro­posal worked well with three bills by Wat­son that would:

Re­quire col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to al­low stu­dents to re­port sex­ual as­sault, ha­rass­ment and dat­ing vi­o­lence through a prom­i­nent link on the school’s web­site. Se­nate Bill 968 also would al­low for anony­mous re­port­ing.

Ex­empt sex­ual as­sault vic­tims and wit­nesses from vi­o­la­tions of stu­dent con­duct codes for such of­fenses as un­der­age drink­ing. Se­nate Bill 969 is in­tended to re­move bar­ri­ers that have kept many as­saults from be­ing re­ported, Wat­son said.

Re­quire ev­ery Texas univer­sity and col­lege to spec­ify that “af­fir­ma­tive con­sent” is re­quired be­fore sex­ual ac­tiv­ity. Un­der poli­cies re­quired by Se­nate Bill 970, “the ab­sence of ‘no’ does not mean yes,” con­sent could be with­drawn at any time, and there is no con­sent if one per­son is in­ca­pac­i­tated by drugs, al­co­hol or other fac­tors, Wat­son said.

“We have to change the cul­ture” on cam­puses, Wat­son said.

A com­mit­tee vote on the four bills could be taken as early as Mon­day. Ap­proved bills would be sent to the full Se­nate.

Har­row­ing tes­ti­mony

Dur­ing Thurs­day’s com­mit­tee hear­ing, about a dozen sex­ual as­sault sur­vivors spoke in fa­vor of the bills. Sev­eral re­called cam­pus in­ves­ti­ga­tions that blamed the vic­tims be­cause they had been drink­ing, while oth­ers said they de­clined to re­port at­tacks be­cause of guilt or fear of be­ing os­tra­cized.

Sev­eral women said they couldn’t eat or be alone months later. One said she skipped classes, stay­ing in bed be­cause the pain went away when she slept.

Huff­man said her bill would re­quire schools to re­lease a re­port each se­mes­ter on the num­ber of al­le­ga­tions, the dis­po­si­tion of cam­pus in­ves­ti­ga­tions and “any ac­tions taken.”

“That might be im­por­tant for (par­ents and prospec­tive stu­dents) to know how many rapes are on that cam­pus and what the cul­ture is at that cam­pus,” she said.

Sev­eral se­na­tors ex­pressed reser­va­tions.

State Sen. Brian Bird­well, R-Gran­bury, said he fa­vored Huff­man’s bill but wor­ried that a pro­vi­sion that keeps the name of al­leged vic­tims con­fi­den­tial could im­pinge on the right to con­front an ac­cuser.

State Sen. Charles Sch­w­ert­ner, R-Ge­orge­town, also fa­vored the bill but said he was con­cerned about the op­por­tu­nity for false ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault, per­haps in re­tal­i­a­tion for a soured re­la­tion­ship.

But Huff­man said her bill, in­tended to en­sure ac­cu­rate re­port­ing, had noth­ing to do with crim­i­nal and ad­min­is­tra­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions into as­sault al­le­ga­tions.

“This bill doesn’t in­ter­fere or usurp any other author­ity. It’s sim­ply a way to get the pub­lic the in­for­ma­tion so we know what’s go­ing on in these uni­ver­si­ties,” she said.

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

State Sen. Joan Huff­man, au­thor of one of the bills dis­cussed at Thurs­day’s meet­ing of the Se­nate State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said the UT sur­vey un­der­lined the need for ac­tion.

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