The Texas Senate unanimously approved a bill last week requiring employees at universities to report cases of sexual assault or harassment if they witness the incident or learn about it afterward.
Under Senate Bill 212, authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, university employees who do not report incidents of sexual assault or harassment they are aware of will be fired and charged with a Class B misdemeanor. The offense would be upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor — which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000 — if the employee sought to cover up the incident.
“By compelling both public and private Texas colleges and universities to account for incidents of sexual violence on their campuses, Texans can finally understand the pervasive nature of these horrible crimes,” Huffman said in a statement. “The days when an outcry went unheard, unreported or covered up are over in the state of Texas.”
The bill makes an exception for university employees who are students and employees who are expected to maintain confidentiality with students, such as mental health staff.
Rylee Trotter, president of UT’s chapter of Not On My Campus, an organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault and harassment on campus, said she had a positive impression of the bill but would like to see additions made to it. Management information systems junior Trotter said she spoke on her own behalf and not her organization’s.
“I would like to see an amendment specifying the need for confidential advocates and resources in addition to mandatory reporters,” Trotter said in an email. “I believe survivors deserve both options: To not report, if desired, or to report and ensure that their incident is taken seriously and handled well.”
Ashka Dighe, communications manager for UT’s chapter of It’s On Us, another sexual assault prevention organization, said she is a supporter of Huffman’s bill. Dighe, a Plan II and neuroscience sophomore, said she also wants to protect survivors who don’t want their incident reported, but said she was encouraged by other aspects of the bill. (Dighe is a former opinion columnist for The Daily Texan.)
“One of the really good parts of this bill is that it has very clearly defined what sexual assault is and what sexual harassment is,” Dighe said. “Even though definitions have existed, they haven’t been so clearly outlined. This bill would make it such that everyone (at institutions of higher learning) in Texas has to follow these definitions, and that makes it a lot more clear when something is or is not considered to be sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Delaney Davis, vice president of It’s On Us, said she also wanted victims of sexual violence to have more employees who they could discuss their incident with confidentially.
“Not every person who is sexually assaulted necessarily wants to go through an investigation process,” government sophomore Davis said. “It has its good and bad aspects, but I’d say overall I’m a supporter of the bill.”
SB 212 will now be taken up for consideration in the Texas House of Representatives. If signed into law, the bill would go into effect on Sept. 1 of this year.