Our University has done a lot to tackle sexual assault on the 40 Acres.
Most notably, UT is one of the few schools in the nation, and the only one in Texas, to have free Sexual Assault Forensic Exams — or rape kits — available to any student who needs one. This fact alone is staggering because this is a huge step towards supporting survivors.
Even with such a significant stride toward added resources, there’s a problem. “Of the 4,600 students who’ve been assaulted while at school, only six have gone to get forensic exams on (UT’s) campus,” wrote Sarah Marloff in her article for the Austin Chronicle about why UT students aren’t getting rape kits.
An updated number from SAFE Austin shows that the number has increased by two as of 2018. Eight rape kits have been used. Yet more than 4,600 students have reported sexual assault. These numbers reflect a disturbing lack of rape kit usage. UT must provide exact information on what a rape kit is and what it can do for students.
The reasons survivors aren’t disclosing information, be it through reporting or through rape kit exams, are “complex and multifaceted,” said Melanie Susswein, the director of marketing and communications for the Institute of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Multiple factors, such as a general distrust in the system that handles these issues, has led to this trend.
Jennifer Thompson, a research project manager at IDVSA, suggests that students who don’t get tested following a sexual assault might be avoiding doing so because the assault is so closely related to the University — a phenomenon known as “institutional betrayal.” This may attribute to the low number of survivors requesting rape kits.
To combat this, the University needs to help survivors cope with their loss and pain as well as create an environment conducive to their needs. Rape kit exams are crucial. However, beyond resources, survivors want someone to acknowledge the trauma they went through. By acknowledging survivors’ traumatic experiences, the University can make the process of accessing their resources smoother, easier and less intimidating.
The University needs to disclose more information about how getting a rape kit works. It needs to show how it is done, how long it takes, who will oversee the exam, who will view the exam onwards and where it is turned in. Many survivors may fear this extra step, because they don’t know how it works. UT can be understanding and make the process transparent to form a supportive environment for survivors. Maybe then, the University will see the crucial use of rape kits increase.
UT has been focusing their efforts on teaching and providing students with sexual assault resources, such as providing the free rape kits at the University Health Services and providing general mandatory education through SAPU. It is more than great that a university as big as ours accomplishes these things. However, there is still a problem. UT must take action. The majority of students who report sexual assault are not using the University free rape kits.
UT needs to provide better and exact information on what a rape kit is and what it entails, and by doing so create a more understanding and welcoming environment for survivors.
Mata is a psychology sophomore from Houston.