Sexual assault cases necessitate diversity in UTPD

Josephine MacLean

At the UT Senate of College Council’s recent Conversation on Campus Safety, a panel discussion on pressing safety concerns, I noticed something — most of the questions about safety were asked by or about women, but all the speakers were men. While UT’s police department staff is 16 percent female, slightly higher than the national average of 13 percent, the panel made me wonder, is that enough?

Sexual assault investigation needs female officers. Throughout the conversation, UTPD chief David Carter repeatedly called for students to provide information about all crimes and suspicious activity. But if I faced the choice of staying silent or reliving traumatic details, I would feel more comfortable with a woman. It is not the men’s fault, but women often share common experiences that can allow for a deeper level of empathy. 

As my awareness of friends who have decided not to report sexual assault grows, so does my frustration with the way our system is set up. Women who don’t report sexual assault often hold back out of a sense of shame and a need for privacy. If they decide to report, it’s needlessly complicated. The only numbers posted under the criminal investigation unit are for male officers. So women must choose between an overwhelming phone tree or calling 911, which is unintuitive for crimes that happened in the past. I was not able to reach the department for comment on this article.

Faye Woodsmall was the first female police officer in Beaumont, Texas. She worked with two other male officers to form one of the first “rape divisions,” what is now known as “sex crimes” unit, in Texas. 

Woodsmall found that being a woman made a difference when it came to rape investigations. “We found that me being in the sex crimes unit … [for] a lot of the victims, it gave them a sense that they could talk to somebody and tell their story. We had to find out the whole story, it made them feel more comfortable with me taking their statements.”

Woodsmall does not blame UTPD for lacking women officers. During her time in the personnel department, she faced applicant shortages. “The hiring and the process is extensive … It’s really difficult to get good applicants, those that will stay, because it’s a different kind of job, it’s not easy.” 

Woodsmall’s grandson, Joseph Trahan, a public relations sophomore, agrees with his grandmother’s assessment, adding that there’s a power dynamic that needs to be addressed. “I believe that it’s important for individuals who are suffering any sort of crisis to be able to be in contact with people that identify within their own gender or community. I think there’s a level of comfort that exists [and] a sense of empathy or sympathy, because both are the same in many aspects.”

Woodsmall’s experiences highlight our campus’ need for access to female officers. One story in particular stood out to Woodsmall: “There was a girl I had known for several years, but hadn’t talked to her for a long, long time. She called the station, and she said it’s private can I talk to you, meet you for lunch? And I knew. I knew she was a victim.”

MacLean is an advertising and liberal arts honors freshman. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.