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While defending her campus sexual assault bill at the state capitol Thursday, Texas Sen. Joan Huffman unleashed a sobering statistic: 15 percent of female undergrads polled at the University of Texas at Austin say they've been raped.
"It's beyond troubling," said Huffman, a Houston Republican. "It's shocking."
Huffman pulled this number from a yet-to-be released UT study of nearly 30,000 students surveyed in 2015. UT officials won't release the full report for a few more weeks, but confirmed the number with the Dallas Morning News.
"The first injustice committed in every assault or inappropriate behavior is the act itself, but the second injustice is often the silence of the community surrounding the survivor," UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves told the News
. "We must not be silent anymore, and we must not be afraid to face the very real problems that exist at our university and in society in general."
In its study, UT researchers defined rape as "having oral sex with someone, making someone perform oral sex, or penetrating someone's vagina or anus with penis, fingers or other objects without their consent, by use of verbal pressure, taking advantage of them when they're incapacitated, threatening to harm or using force."
This kind of comprehensive study, conducted by the school's Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, is just the first in a series of yearly data collection on sexual assault across the UT system.
It comes on the heels of a jarring report from the U.S. Department of Education, indicating students had reported more rapes at UT-Austin than any other college campus in the state — a total of 17 in 2014.
While a spike in reports may just mean that more students are comfortable reporting their assault, UT didn't hesitate to expand its sexual assault programming on campus. Shortly after the 2015 survey ended, UT-Austin released a first-of-its-kind handbook
for campus police officers on how to treat victims of reported assault, in hopes of increasing successful prosecutions and reducing the shame and trauma that victims are often left with.
The state legislature is now getting involved, in part a reaction to the ongoing reports of sexual assault and rape that have poured out of Baylor University.
Sen. Huffman is one of a few legislators who've introduced aggressive bills on campus sexual assault this session. Huffman's Senate Bill 576 would require school employees and student leaders of campus organizations (like fraternities or athletic clubs) to promptly report any cases of sexual assault, family violence or stalking that they're informed of. It's similar to laws requiring certain professionals to be "mandated reporters" of any signs that the children, seniors or people with disabilities they work with are being abused.
And SB 576 comes with considerable penalties. If an employee failed to report, they're charged with a Class B misdemeanor and fired — and if they're found guilty of concealing this information from law enforcement, they could face up to a year behind bars.
Some state lawmakers and legal experts fear Huffman's bill may create a "chilling atmosphere"
on campus when paired with such serious criminal penalties. But Huffman showed no sign of backpedaling on the Senate floor Thursday.
"I realize these reporting requirements may be the most stringent in the country, but ... Texas must lead the way," she said.
Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat and Baylor alum, joins Huffman with his own round of bills on campus assault — including one that would create online forums to anonymously report sexual assault, another that would protect students reporting sexual assault from being punished if they've broken campus laws (like underage drinking), and a third that would require colleges to educate students on sexual consent.
"I believe students on college campuses have the right to be safe and feel safe," Watson told the Current
. "And that means having control over your own body."