According to a study by the Association of American Universities, 23.1 percent of undergraduate females will experience sexual assault during college. Depending on the type of misconduct, only between five and 28 percent of victims report it to school officials. At UT, 15 percent of undergraduate women have been raped, and 28 percent have experienced unwanted sexual touching.
Sexual assault happens, and it happens at our university. While we should still work to prevent it, it is important for students to know how to help peer survivors after the fact.
The AAU study notes that one common reason victims don’t report sexual assault is because they don’t believe anything will be done to help them seek justice. Unfortunately, that can be all too true for some victims. According to the Austin American-Statesman, three women filed a lawsuit on June 18 against Travis County and the City of Austin.
According to the article, APD received more than 1,000 sexual assault reports between June 2016 and June 2017, but only a few were prosecuted, and only one went to trial.
For UTPD, improving their response on sexual assault cases is an ongoing process. Sergeant Samantha Stanford and Detective Eliana Decker are the two sexual assault specialists.
“The one thing I hope is that a potential victim trusts the police that they are in control,” UT Police Department Chief David Carter said. “We can help remove them from harm and connect them to counseling, victim advocacy or follow up on the administrative side, which is separate from the police. We are here to help them through the process.”
Even if a victim trusts the police, it can be frightening to turn to the police or other officials for help. That’s why it is so important to be there for your friend to offer guidance and support. If you offer them guidance, it’s also important to know where to guide them to.
“If a friend confides in you that they have been sexually assaulted,” Carter said, “the most important thing to do is to try to convince them to reach out to professionals. I would want to connect them to the counseling and mental health aspect.”
The Counseling and Mental Health Center has a program called Voices Against Violence, which has many resources to help sexual assault victims. It’s staffed with professionals who are trained to counsel and guide victims. For more immediate service, the CMHC offers their crisis phone line, which is available 24/7, even on holidays. “The counseling system is built to give them support and guidance to make them whole, physically and emotionally,” Carter said.
It’s important to respect your friend’s wishes to seek justice or not. Even if your friend chooses not to report the assault to officials, they still confided in and trusted you to believe them. Many victims are scared, embarrassed or ashamed of what happened to them. If you turn your back on them, they may not open up to anyone else and have to deal with the trauma on their own.
Telling a victim “I believe you” will enable you to help them get the help they need. Some victims just need an ear to listen, but some need guidance and support to talk to a counselor or investigator.
We’ve all heard the stories on campus. We’ve all received those “timely notice” emails. Next time sexual assault happens, know what you can do to help your fellow Longhorn.
Jingling is an English junior from Georgetown.