Lawmakers initially approve bill to set sexual assault guidelines

Eleanor Dearman

State lawmakers are working to set state guidelines for how universities handle sexual assault. 

The House gave initial approval Monday to a bill requiring universities to set definitions of sexual assault and sanctions for violations, present an orientation presentation on sexual assault and layout response and reporting protocols. The bill, proposed by  Rep. Alfonso Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass) would also mandate that universities create a web page dedicated to reporting findings on sexual assault and sharing resources with students, faculty and staff. 

Jennifer Hammat, associate vice president of University Compliance Services, said UT currently meets most of the requirements laid out in the bill through requirements set in the Clery Act, a federal mandate that requires universities to report sexual assault cases that occur on campus.

“What the Clery Act does not do is cause review every year from the universities and also include these in orientations for universities,” Nevárez said. 

The University does not meet the requirement for a stand-alone website, but Hammat said it is in the process of creating one.

“If Texas wants to be against relationship violence, against sexual violence — I support that,” Hammat said. “There are always going to be redundancies, … but it does look like they’ve at least said, … ‘the state is going to hold you accountable.’”

UT had a total of 21 sexual assault cases and a combined 90 cases of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking on campus in 2013, the most recent year with available sexual assault information for UT. 

A number of cases go unreported because of multiple factors, including embarrassment or stigma attached to sexual assault, Hammat said. 

“For every person that is experiencing sexual assault, the way they process that information is very different. … This is not something people like to talk about, so oftentimes, they do not report it,” Hammat said.

Victims of sexual assault have the option to report attacks to the University of Texas Police Department or other University entities, UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said. 

“If they want to report it to the police and possibly file charges, they can,” Posey said. “If they don’t, then they can just report it to UT, and UT will handle it internally.” 

Hammat said the University works to provide resources for sexual assault and sexual harassment online through campus organizations. Resources on campus include Student Emergency Services and Voices Against Violence.