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15 percent of female undergraduates at UT have been raped, survey says

By Lauren McGaughy | The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

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AUSTIN, Texas — Fifteen percent of undergraduate female students surveyed at the University of Texas, Austin said they’ve been raped, according to a statewide study that the UT system will soon release.

“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-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves told The Dallas Morning News. “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.”

GOP Sen. Joan Huffman broke the news of the forthcoming survey Thursday morning when she mentioned the 15 percent figure during debate on a bill she has written to penalize college staff and some students who fail to report incidents of sexual assault on campus. The bill — along with four other campus rape bills debated this week — was filed after years of scandals at Baylor University.

“Fifteen percent of women who go to their university are raped. Raped. That’s unacceptable,” Huffman said. “It’s beyond troubling. It’s shocking.

“It’s unacceptable and it has to stop.”

Multiple bills to fight campus rape have been filed by Republicans and Democrats as lawmakers acknowledge that the state needs to address scandals like the one at Baylor University.

The UT system is expected to release the survey’s results in the coming weeks, UT-Austin officials confirmed.

The study was comprehensive, surveying 28,000 students during the 2015 academic year at 13 UT academic and health campuses. A project of the School of Social Work’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, this survey is just the first round. A second one will be repeated in two years, the system said when it announced in 2015 that it would be undertaking “the nation’s most comprehensive study on sexual assaults ever conducted in higher education.”

System officials did not release more comprehensive data that would help to put the figure Huffman cited into context. That information will be released when the entire systemwide study comes out within the next 10 days, they said.

But UT-Austin officials confirmed the veracity of the number, saying 15 percent of the female undergraduate students they surveyed said they were “raped, either through force, threat of force, incapacitation or other forms of coercion such as lies and verbal pressure.”

In the study, rape was defined as “having oral sex with someone, making someone perform oral sex, or penetrating someone’s vagina or anus with penis, fingers or other objects without their consent, by use of verbal pressure, taking advantage of them when they’re incapacitated, threatening to harm or using force.”

“These findings, which reflect problems endemic to our society, are highly disturbing,” UT-Austin spokesman J.B. Bird said. “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.”

In 2015, UT-Austin was part of a nationwide sexual assault survey that found that 18.5 percent of students had been sexually assaulted by “force or incapacitation” since enrollment. Sexual assault in the survey was defined as unwanted penetration or sexual touching (kissing, touching, grabbing or groping) or the attempt to do so.

The same survey showed that 8 percent reported “nonconsensual penetration” by force or incapacitation, with 3 percent reporting such an assault by force without incapacitation.

Woefully few campus rapes are reported, experts agree, with about 1 in 10 assault survivors coming forward. State legislators hope to begin to turn that around this year with changes to Texas law.

On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee debated four bills that would change the way public and private colleges in Texas deal with sexual assault reporting and prevention. It didn’t vote on any of them — it will do that another day — but a split has developed between the panel’s male and female members on whether they wholeheartedly support the legislation.

The most aggressive is Huffman’s Senate Bill 576, which would require all school employees — and even some students — to report instances of “sexual harassment, sexual assault, family violence or stalking” promptly after becoming aware of the incident, or else face serious consequences.

The bill was heavily rewritten before the committee debated it Thursday.

Under the amended bill, staff, professors and officials at colleges who fail to report an assault without “good cause” would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and fired, while student leaders like fraternity presidents who do the same would be suspended for at least a year or expelled. This penalty increases to a Class A misdemeanor — punishable by up to $4,000 in fines and a year in jail — for employees found to have willfully concealed information about an assault.

Data on the numbers of incidents of sexual violence would be gathered and disseminated to the campus president once a month. The president would then report to the Board of Regents twice a year. Campus presidents and sexual assault coordinators who fail to make these reports would be fired, the bill says.

One addition to Huffman’s bill was a requirement that any university that “does not substantially comply” with the law would lose state funding for tuition equalization grants, which is financial aid that the state gives students to attend private colleges and universities. Other changes would protect the anonymity of students who were assaulted by making their information private, and prohibit schools from retaliating against people who report assaults in good faith even if the information turns out to be false.

Those who knowingly make false reports, however, would be penalized according to the same guidelines placed on those who fail to report assaults.

The public testimony on Huffman’s bill was largely positive, and she enjoys the support of the panel’s female members from both parties. But some Republican men on the committee expressed concerns about the bill.

“I think you’re on the right track, but I am profoundly concerned with the rights of the accused,” GOP Sen. Brian Birdwell told Huffman.

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15 percent of female undergraduates at UT have been raped, survey says