Last Wednesday, a woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in Hyde Park. In the early hours of the morning the Saturday before, a UT student was groped in West Campus, and later that night, reports surfaced of a man flashing numerous women in front of Thai, How Are You. That’s three cases of sexual harassment in five days. All took place in student neighborhoods. Two of the women affected were UT students.
Students were notified of one of these three incidents.
The Clery Act requires UT to report on-campus assaults, but the same is not true of off-campus incidents. Granted, The University of Texas Police Department — and therefore, UT — does not have jurisdiction over West Campus and other surrounding student neighborhoods, but a lack of jurisdiction shouldn’t mean a lack of communication. UT notifies us of some off-campus crimes, thereby going above and beyond the federal requirements set forth. But we still need just an email more.
“When UTPD is notified by APD of off-campus crimes where a UT student is potentially a victim we review on a case-by-case basis and notify the campus community via email, text or social media if the information is timely and vital to campus safety” Cindy Posey, director of internal and campus safety communications, noted in an email.
She also points out that sexual assaults aren’t always reported in a timely manner, meaning that it may be difficult to respond to such situations soon enough to protect other students. Nevertheless, the same can be said of many assaults that happen on campus.
The epidemic of sexual assault doesn’t end on college campuses. While the University has taken steps to protect survivors, the rhetoric feels empty when they fail to notify us of an incident simply because it occurred on the wrong side of Guadalupe. These crimes are gender motivated. More than half of UT’s population is at risk. We need to know.
The three crimes in discussion were handled by APD. In the Hyde Park case, the crime “occurred outside the Clery reportable boundaries and was even outside the boundaries of which APD has agreed to make notification to UT,” according to Posey. UTPD retweeted APD’s tweet about the incident, so students were not completely left in the dark. Nevertheless, the spot of the crime is exactly one mile from the Student Activity Center — it’s close enough to campus that students should be proactively made aware. The University needed to send us an email.
We received a notification earlier in the semester when a student was physically assaulted at a Hyde Park bus stop. We got an email just a few weeks ago about police activity in West Campus. And we need to get one when students are sexually assaulted or harassed near campus and the perpetrator is still on the loose. It’s simple.
An email or text message could make students think twice about walking home from the library at 2 a.m. the next day. It could make others think twice about listening to music on their walk home, or even further, cause a student to consider calling SURE Walk or Lyft. Police don’t immediately catch many of these suspects, meaning it’s possible that there is an ongoing risk in the community. It’s easy to consider yourself invulnerable when you live a short 10-minute walk from campus, but unfortunately that’s not the case. UT has provided us with numerous services for this exact reason, but students are often ignorant of crimes occurring around the area. Continuation of a daily routine without knowledge that a perpetrator of an act of sexual violence is on the loose could jeopardize students’ safety and increase the crime rate around campus. Students certainly should take steps to better ensure their safety, but so should the University.
While students have a responsibility to keep up with the news like all other citizens, most aren’t checking the Austin American-Statesman website before leaving the PCL to see if there have been any reported sexual assaults in their neighborhoods. The University is employing social media and some emails to alert us, which is certainly better than nothing. They are extending beyond the law’s requirements, and we need to recognize that. Nevertheless, there is still more that can be done. These incidents are dangerous, and women already often feel as if assaults and harassment are swept under the rug. If we’ve learned anything from the #MeToo movement, it’s that talking about these incidents is powerful and can result in change. It’s vital this lesson is applied at a university level.
Vernon is an anthropology and rhetoric and writing junior from The Woodlands. She is a senior columnist.