UT reports increase in prevalence of sexual assaults in Texas

Matthew Adams

Sexual assaults are more prevalent in Texas presently than in 2003, according to a study by the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

The study found 6.3 million Texans experienced some form of sexual assault, an increase from the 1.9 million Texans reported in 2003. The study also found 413,000 Texans experienced sexual assaults in the year prior to the survey, and only about 9 percent of victims reported the incident to police.

Laurie Cook Heffron, a member of the research team, said despite the concern of rising instances, she thinks improvements are being made.

“It is still very much a problem in our community,” Cook Heffron said. “On the other hand, if we interpret the rise in numbers of being [due to] increased awareness or willing to talk about it and think about it … that to me is a good sign that we are making some improvements.”

Noel Busch-Armendariz, lead investigator and the institute’s director, said this study began in 2014 but was different from the original 2003 study because of changes to the Texas Penal Code. Busch-Armendariz said with these changes, the institute expanded its five-question survey from 2003 to 15 questions encompassing the changes to the penal code.

Busch-Armendariz said the main goal for this study was to show Texans the prevalence of sexual assault during a person’s lifetime, but the institute was able to find annual rates.

“We do it over a lifetime because that is a better measure,” Busch-Armendariz said. “It’s difficult to give annual rates because people often delay reporting, but as it turns out, we are able in this report to give that annual rate.”

Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director for Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said she thinks it is alarming to see the increase in prevalence and even more alarming how few people report sexual assault.

“Eighteen percent, which is what it was in 2003, was already dismally low, and to have it go down to 9 percent, we’re back to the reporting rate we were at 35 years ago,” Burrhus-Clay said. “It certainly feels like a huge step backwards in responding to sexual assault survivors.”

Busch-Armendariz said people should find professional help, because it is not as effective for a victim to talk solely with a friend or family member.

“We need to figure out how to intervene and then how to prevent it,” Busch-Armendariz said. “Part of that is being able to have victims name what happened to them and get services. They are more likely to tell a friend and a family member than they are to get help from a professional.”   

From the survey published, Burrhus-Clay said she hopes people in power at institutions such as universities and the military will take the appropriate measures and address the problem.

“I’m hoping the ones reading this survey are people who are in positions of authority and power to change legislation, to impact policy at universities, military or places of employment,” Burrhus-Clay said. “I’m hoping when people see that they are more impacted by those figures and really feel we can’t go any further back.”