Seventeen rapes were reported on campus in 2014, with 13 of the cases taking place in on-campus housing facilities, according to the most up-to-date data released by the U.S. Department of Education.
With the number of reported rapes increasing in recent years, the data showed UT had the highest number of incidents on campus out of all Texas universities in 2014.
University officials said the report doesn’t offer a complete picture of UT’s campus safety status.
“It has to do with the culture of the University and whether it encourages reporting,” said J.B. Bird, director of media relations for the University. “Our approach at [UT] is to encourage people to report. We know we will have higher statistics, but we believe that [reporting] will make for a much better culture on campus.”
SAFE Alliance communications director Derrick Crowe said creating this kind of climate at a University is essential to solving the problem of sexual assault. Rather than placing the burden on those targeted in these crimes, he said the community should step up to the plate.
“The onus is on the larger community to adopt a culture of prevention and of support for survivors who do come forward to report,” Crowe said. “The statistics show that very few survivors actually go on to report their assault to the authorities, often because they fear they will not be believed. That has to change.”
Title IX coordinator LaToya Smith said big pushes have been made to make the reporting process more effective, which has led to the higher number of reported rape cases.
“Over the years, our numbers have increased exponentially, but a big part of that is because we’ve created resources and structure to where it’s safe for them to do so,” Smith said.
In 2015, University President Greg Fenves allocated funds to hire six Title IX investigators as part of a team that handles student-on-student sexual assault, in addition to interpersonal violence, discrimination, harassment and stalking.
“The institution is shifting to be more trauma-informed and trauma-centered,” Smith said. “That means academic policies, that means our resources on campus, that means even our social media campaigns.”
Smith also spoke on programs the University is hoping will shed light on why sexual assault is happening on campus in the first place. One initiative that’s currently being developed involves multiple focus groups composed of survivors, students who have been through the reporting process and students who are members of vulnerable populations. Each group will be taken through a four-year program that aims to find problem spots on or near campus.
“If out of that focus group it says [assaults] are happening west of campus at this particular location or after this type of party, then that allows me to … collaborate with various groups or even [work] with that particular apartment complex,” Smith said.
Smith said campaigns such as Not On My Campus are essential to educating the student population on this issue, but she is aiming for more than awareness. Collaboration is key to combating this challenge together, she said.
“The good thing about being a large institution is we have a lot of energy and focus but … there’s so much going on that people don’t necessarily know what other people are doing,” Smith said. “I want to … bring all these initiatives together because we’re all fighting the same good fight.”