The University of Texas at Austin is receiving praise nationwide for its aggressive response to a student’s sexual assault report.
Last month, two football players were arrested, charged with a sexual assault, and suspended from the UT team.
Typically, the stories we hear about on-campus sexual assault don’t go so well: Sexual assault victims very rarely report crimes, and when they do, universities often attempt to skirt federal law and sweep the crimes under the rug. In many cases, rape “trials” that take place within a university’s own judicial system only deal the perpetrator a slap on the wrist and discourage other victims from coming to the authorities.
Even though the assault took place in June and the two football players were arrested in July, UT’s actions are being lauded as “a model of how to respond to a sexual assault allegation,” presumably because they responded at all. After the student filed a report, campus police immediately began their investigation—a simple function of the criminal justice system that many universities neglect.
The University of Texas should continue to take measured to prevent sexual assault and aggressively investigate reported cases. As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out, an estimated one in five women are assaulted during college, yet on-campus police departments receive only a handful of sexual assault reports each year.
Officers have responded to reports of just 19 sexual assaults on six Central Texas campuses – which have a total of more than 101,000 students – since 2010.Even more striking, of those cases, only four have resulted in arrests of a total of six suspects, including now-suspended UT football players Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, accused in a June 21 assault at a dormitory and now awaiting trial.
The number of police investigations at UT is significantly lower than the number of sexual assault cases reported to campus administrators for internal review and possible discipline. Between 2010 and 2012, UT officials documented 23 reported sexual assaults, but police officials say they were alerted to only five sexual assault allegations in that period.
University and law enforcement officials say the low numbers highlight the strain they face in combating campus sex crimes: persuading victims to come forward, and then investigating and prosecuting cases they bring.
Like many sexual assault victims in the general population, college-aged victims frequently wish to keep such encounters secret. Others alert school officials in hopes of seeing the accused person disciplined or banned from campus, but they’re reluctant to notify police, avoiding what they fear will be a potentially protracted and embarrassing criminal investigation.
Hopefully, UT’s promising response to this assault will encourage other students to come forward if they become the victims of sexual assault. To continue being a leader in preventing and addressing rape on campus, university administrators and the UTPD should ensure that victims’ reports will be taken seriously and that the perpetrators will be held accountable.
Natalie tweets from @nsanluis.