Bill would look into restructuring sexual assault policies at Texas universities

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Victims of sexual assault on college campuses currently do not have a clearly defined protocol for reporting these crimes, but a bill in the Texas Legislature is trying to address the issue.

The bill would form a statewide task force of higher education officials, sexual assault counselors and survivors of sexual assault to review current laws and protocols regarding reporting sexual assault and how victims are currently served at universities in Texas. The analysis the task force provides would be used to discuss implementing statewide guidelines for handling sexual assault.

Allison Hawkins, a freshman at Texas Tech University, testified at a hearing Wednesday for the Texas House Higher Education Committee. Hawkins shared the story of being raped by a fraternity member who drugged and raped her as part of his initiation into the organization.

Hawkins said she ultimately regretted reporting her rape after being accused of lying during investigations that followed by Texas Tech and local police. The fraternity member was released, and Hawkins said she did not hear of any action taken against the fraternity.

“I was made to feel like this guy had more rights than I did,” Hawkins said at the hearing. “The school was more concerned about his rights being protected than the fact that he raped me. My rape means nothing to my college.”

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin and the bill’s author, said being more vocal about how to handle the effects of sexual assault is the first step in creating a better system of reporting.

“[We need to] step forward and bring this information to the forefront and require attention to it and make everyone understand that you could have a family member and loved one that this happened to who didn’t even tell you,” Dukes said. “We can’t protect anyone unless we bring it forth.”

Leana Bouffard, director of the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University, said the perception of how sexual assault victims should react to their situation is one important aspect of sexual assault reporting that needs to be changed.

“I think there is a perception that victims of sexual assault are supposed to respond in a particular way — that there is a consistent trauma that occurs for all victims and that that should be expressed in a consistent way across all cases, and that really just doesn’t happen,” Bouffard said at the hearing. “The consequences of sexual assault, the experiences that each victim goes through, are unique to their own experience and their own background and personality, and so victims will respond differently depending on their own situation.”

Jane Bost, associate director for the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said UT leads the nation in resources for sexual assault survivors and is still constantly trying to find new ways to better serve victims. 

“In terms of the legislation, I’m proud to be part of a university that has so strongly supported those kinds of initiatives,” Bost said. “In the process [of creating the task force], I would have to say that I do think the University of Texas at Austin would be a very valued and valuable contributor to that process because — and this is not just pride in our program here — I have a lot of interaction with people statewide and nationally, and we are continuously contacted as national leaders.”

Bost said she helped start Voices Against Violence more than 12 years ago by acquiring a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The program, which provides counseling and other services for survivors of sexual assault on campus, is now fully funded by the University.

Dukes said the bill will help empower victims of rape and assault to lead healthy and successful lives later on in life in spite of their suffering.

“You never know what a victim of sexual assault will do with their life,” Dukes said at the hearing. “It can teeter to the 40 percent who become an alcoholic or drug addict or becomes depressed or commits suicide, or they can very well be an individual that ends up sitting in the Texas House of Representatives.”