Breaking the Silence: Texas colleges face scrutiny for under-reporting sex assaults

Published: Feb. 11, 2016 at 12:30 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 12, 2016 at 3:33 PM CST
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(KLTV) - A growing number of colleges and universities are being investigated to see if acts of sexual violence were mishandled on their campus.

Five of those colleges are in Texas: Cisco Junior College, Texas A&M at College Station, University of Texas - Pan American, Trinity University, and the University of Houston, according to the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights. A total of 161 schools in the U.S. face scrutiny in 199 sexual violence cases as of January 27 for possibly violating Title IX. This federal law  prohibits discrimination against those who have been sexually assaulted.

"There's a lot of pain and suffering associated [with assault], not just with it occurring but, of course, with it being public," said Laura Dunn. "Survivors are speaking out more than they ever have before."

Dunn reported being sexually assaulted at the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2004.  She is now an attorney in Washington D.C. who helps student victims through a nonprofit company SurvJustice.

"I think there's this idea for people who don't know a lot about the issue that it's very simple, you just go report, people automatically believe you and then investigate to show it's happened," Dunn said. "It's almost the exact opposite. people are skeptical about your report, even though statistics show that rape is no more false reported than any other major felony."

Dunn believes many sexual assaults reported to college officials by students, do not get fully investigated.

"Unfortunately, some campuses have their own police force, which I think is a very bad practice. Campus police are part of the campus system and they don't want waves."

Under reporting of crimes or a failure to make a report about the crime also violates federal law. Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities are required to report the number of incidents of sexual assault, date violence, stalking and other related crimes on their campuses to the federal government.

GET DATA: Search crime statistics for colleges and universities

"[We're] trying to make sure that the college can't sweep these things under the rug," said U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. "I'm the father of three college-age daughters, and when you hear stories from my daughters about what happened on their college campus – not to them, but to others -when you see data that shows that literally 1 out of 5 women are assaulted, that it's a higher rate on college campuses than in the general population, we've got to bring this to an end. this is almost an epidemic."

KLTV's investigation of East Texas colleges including UT Tyler, Tyler Junior College, Kilgore College, and Stephen F. Austin found that they are accurately reporting crimes reported on campus to the federal government.

UT Tyler Title IX coordinator Blake Bumbard said their campus policies help ensure they are in line with the laws.

"I think that a student or parent should be very wary of any crime statistics page that they look at that shows all zeros like some universities do," said Bumbard. "The purpose of [the Clery Act] is primarily to give students and parents those statistics so that they can make  an informed decision into the university or college that they choose."

Texas lawmakers take on college sex assaults

A Texas house bill in 2015 wanted to make having a sexual assault policy mandatory at public colleges and universities.

The bill required that schools put in writing exactly what behavior was prohibited, and what punishment perpetrators would face.  The bill also asked schools to establish a protocol for reporting and responding to sexual assaults on campus.

The majority of East Texas lawmakers voted against the bipartisan bill, authored by two democrats and one republican.

Senators Bob Hall and Robert Nichols voted 'no' to House Bill 699. Senator Kevin Eltife voted in favor of the bill.

Nichols said despite the bill's good motives, no provisions were made for the state to pay schools for the changes.

"Therefore an unfunded mandate and that's primarily why I did it, I voted no," said Sen. Nichols.

Five East Texas house representatives voted against the bill, Dan Flynn, Bryan Hughes, Matt Schaefer, David Simpson, and Stuart Spitzer. Three voted 'yes': Trent Ashby, Travis Clardy, and Chris Paddie.

"For young adults, in a lot of instances, they just left home and are on their own," said Rep. Clardy. "What should be a very positive learning and education experience does not need to be marred or ruined by sexual violence."

Clardy said he found that many Texas schools already had similar policies on the books.

HB699 passed the house with 102 total Texas representatives voting in its favor and 40 voting against it.  It also passed the senate with a 25 - 4 vote and was signed into law by Governor Gregg Abbott in June of last year.

While Dunn agrees that this type of legislation helps move society at least one step closer to ending sexual violence, she advocates for earlier awareness.

"I think sexual violence will continue to be a problem until our country invests in meaningful prevention education that starts in middle school and is emphasized throughout high school. We can't wait until college. It's too late."

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