Fifteen percent of undergraduate women at the University of Texas at Austin have been raped, according to a UT System study that will be released in the coming weeks.
Texas Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, revealed this statistic during a Senate State Affairs committee hearing Thursday, during which four bills pertaining to sexual assaults on campus were discussed.
In a statement from the University, J.B. Bird, director of media relations, confirmed the figure and defined rape in the context of the report as rape “either through force, threat of force, incapacitation or other forms of coercion such as lies and verbal pressure.” Bird said the full report will be a comprehensive approach to sexual assault and misconduct at 13 institutions across the System. The sample size and information about data collection was not made available Thursday.
“These findings, which reflect problems endemic to our society, are highly disturbing,” Bird said in a statement. “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.”
Huffman said these figures are unacceptable and presented Senate Bill 576 during Thursday’s hearing in order to increase transparency and be able to accurately state how many instances of sexual assault are occurring on campuses.
SB 576 would require all university employees, whether public or private, and student organization leaders to promptly report knowledge of “sexual harassment, sexual assault, family violence or stalking,” to the school’s Title IX office.
A revised version of the bill would impose severe penalties for failing to report instances of sexual assault. University employees who knowingly fail to report an assault would face termination of employment and a Class B misdemeanor. If an employee is intentionally shown to conceal the incident, they could face a Class A misdemeanor. Leaders of student organizations, such as fraternity and sorority presidents, would be suspended for at least a year or face expulsion.
“By confronting the prevalence of these crimes through the reporting required in this bill, Texas colleges can take their first steps toward eliminating sexual assault and violence,” Huffman said. “I realize these reporting requirements may be the most stringent in the country, but it’s time we change culture on college campuses and Texas should lead the way.”
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, presented an additional three bills addressing sexual assault.
SB 970 requires public and private institutions statewide to more clearly define consent for engaging in sexual activities. SB 970 defines consent as “words or actions that clearly demonstrate a knowing and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”
“Affirmative consent establishes that yes means yes, but the absence of no does not mean yes,” Watson said.
While Texas does not have a uniform policy regarding affirmative consent, several institutions already implement standards similar to the bill’s proposal.
Plan II sophomore Mia Goldstein is president of Voices Against Violence, a UT organization that works to prevent interpersonal violence and support survivors. She shared her own experience of sexual assault and spoke in support of the bill during the hearing.
“Consent is about the sovereignty of one’s own body and make no mistake about it, consent is a basic human right,” Goldstein said. “It’s important that the state define it as such.”
Watson’s other two bills encourage victims and witnesses of sexual assault to report their experiences by offering an electronic reporting system and providing an amnesty provision to protect students from being penalized for conduct code violations such as underage drinking when reporting an instance of sexual assault.
“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 Fenves said in a statement. “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.”
All four bills were left pending in committee and have yet to be voted on.