Violence Against Women Act will strengthen UT student protection, officials say

Christine Ayala

Additions to the Violence Against Women Act will better protect students on campus, University officials said.

The latest version of the act, passed by Congress in February, will require colleges and universities to strengthen policies regarding sexual assault and now address instances of hate crimes.

Jennifer Hammat, institutional Title IX coordinator and assistant vice president for student affairs, said the 70 required changes will increase the protection of students on campus and will likely help report crimes that may not have previously been reported.

“The transgender community will now be protected and that makes the campus a safer place for people in that situation,” Hammat said. “Stalking will also be a reportable crime, although that can be difficult to determine.”

The campus changes would add categories including national origin and gender identity to hate crimes, which will now include domestic violence, dating violence and stalking incidents reported to campus security or local law enforcement. These amendments will be implemented in the University’s 2015 Annual Security Report. 

Ayesha Akbar, journalism, humanities and liberal arts honors senior, said the legislation is especially valuable in a university setting. Akbar is president of UT’s Amnesty International chapter, which promotes awareness of human rights abuses, including sexual violence. 

“It’s incredibly important for college campuses to address sexual violence in order to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students,” Akbar said. “Sexual violence is, unfortunately, very prevalent on college campuses and we must target it by preventing assault and ensuring that victims of assault receive support and have access to necessary resources from campus officials.”

Jane Bost, Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said the act has a significant impact on campus because it originally helped fund Voices Against Violence, a program housed in the center. The program is now fully funded by the University, which shows UT’s commitment to preventing and addressing violence crimes, Bost said.

Voices Against Violence aims to prevent sexual violence, which they define as any kind of sexual contact against a person’s will and without consent, including sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse.

Bost said the center uses an empowerment model to help victims of sexual assault, allowing them to make the choice whether to report the incident to various campus authorities. Those authorities that help in pursuing criminal or civil cases and medical advice include the dean of students and Student Judicial Services.

“We will continue to offer all these options and work with them, whether they want to report it or not.” Bost said.

Bost said the Mental Health Center would not have to change any policies or submit any extra information for the campus annual report of such crimes. The center is not required to report any confidential information in its voluntary annual security report.