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UT Says Sexual Assault Reports On the Rise in 2014

UT's race-conscious admissions policy has drawn increased scrutiny.
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Sources say since January, more students have reported sexual assaults than previous years and they expect an increase in next year's Annual Security Report.

In 2013, the number of sexual assaults reported on or near UT Austin’s campus increased only slightly—three more cases were reported than the year before. That’s according to preliminary numbers from UT’s Annual Security Report, which was released this week. 

It's important to note that the numbers aren't likely to be an accurate representation of the number of actual assaults, since sexual assault is an historically underreported crime.

Last year's increase in sexual assault reports might not seem like a big one, but sources say next year’s report will be different.

UT couldn’t provide numbers for 2014, so far. But anecdotally, they say the university has seen an uptick in reports since January. 

“Part of it is getting people in the door and I would say absolutely we have more people in the door," says Jennifer Hammat, UT's Title IX Coordinator, who deals with issues of gender discrimination, including sexual assault. 

Every year, public universities that receive federal dollars are required to report crime statistics on campus.

“If I’m doing my job, these numbers will continue to go up," Hammat says. "It doesn’t mean we’re having more instances  of sexual violence. It means more people are coming through the door to report them and allowing us to be agents of good to restore before the harm occurred, to end the discrimination. Part of that, for us, is we have to get comfortable knowing the numbers were going to go up.” 

The report documents all reported sexual assaults, not the number the university is investigating. It only counts sexual assaults on campus or in off-campus properties that UT leases, owns or controls, not sexual assaults of students the happen off-campus.

The numbers come in to the Title IX office from a variety of places: UT police, counseling and mental health, the UT health center.

“If you went in say for STD, STI testing or pregnancy test at UT health services, if you disclose you’re in for testing as a result of a sexual assault, they may ask if it was on or off-campus," Hammat explains. 

They wouldn’t identify the person reporting, just that a sexual assault happened.

Hammat and others at UT say one reason for the increase in reports is because of prevention and outreach efforts through the on campus group, Voices Against Violence, as well as the recent national spotlight on the issue.

“I see it as a good sign that we’re increasing numbers," says Jane Bost, with UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Services. “The schools I would have the questions about would be the schools that don’t have numbers reported or who haven’t taken initiative to do programming or get the word out and do education and to build the services that are necessary for survivors.”

Other Texas schools are seeing stagnant numbers, too. But the reported numbers are much lower than UT’s. Last year, Texas State University reported zero sexual assaults. Texas A&M reported ten rapes last year, two more than the previous year.

Sources say local current events also play a role in raising awareness of sexual assault. Specifically, the recent arrest of two UT football players. The players were dismissed from the team after being charged with sexual assault. UT football Head Coach Charlie Strong condemned their actions. One of the so-called "Five Core Values" he requires players to live up to includes a prohibition on violence against women. UT grad student Briana Bower said Strong’s message is a positive change.

“It was definitely something that was talked about," says Briana Bower, a UT graduate student. "And I remember talking to friends who were not from here that had heard about it in the news and were like ‘woah, that’s an exciting thing happening on your campus right now. That’s really positive.’” 

On Friday, the UT Board of Regents is scheduled to give a motion of support for Strong’s Core Values.

There was also something different in this year’s report. It includes additional information related to sexual violence: dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Under the federal Violence Against Women Act, which was renewed by Congress last year, colleges are required to report those crimes, too. UT’s Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Hammat says stalking is a new issue because of social media.

“People have gotten very aggressive in their pursuit of others and it’s really easy," Hammat says. "If you have even modest social media settings people know where you go, where you hang out.”

Research shows those behaviors can lead to sexual assault.  According to this week’s report, there were 36 instances of stalking, 25 instances of domestic violence and 15 instances of dating violence reported on campus last year.

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