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UT System Develops Sexual Assault Response Blueprint

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Photo by KUT News
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UT Austin sexual assault prevention researchers helped the UT system develop a blueprint for police to respond to sexual assault reports on campus.

The University of Texas System has released new guidelines for college police departments to respond to reports of sexual assault. Police, university officials and sexual assault researchers developed the blueprint, which emphasizes the use of current science to help police officers better understand sexual assault survivors.

Researchers at UT Austin's Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault interviewed university presidents, police officers and Title IX officers, who collect data about sexual assault on campus. The report integrates police protocol and philosophy about sexual assault to create a set of best practices for police. But UT system police chief Michael Heidingsfield says the blue print’s crown jewel is the emphasis on using current science to help police understand sexual assault survivors.

“We have an intersection now, if you will, of empathy and science," Heidingsfield said on a conference call with reporters Monday. "It allows us to push tradition to the side and now understand why victims say and do what they do, and help them in the presentation of what has occurred, but be part of the restorative process.

Heidingsfield says, historically, police have approached all criminal investigations the same way, but he says explaining neuroscience research to officers will help them understand why a sexual assault victim might not act like victims of other crimes. The blueprint was created for the system's 14 universities across Texas, but Noel Busch-Armendariz at UT Austin says she hopes the blueprint can be adjusted for campuses across the country.

“The Blueprint is proof that science can and should inform police practice,” said the Blueprint’s chief author, Noël Busch-Armendariz, Ph.D., director of the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault and UT Austin School of Social Work professor and associate dean for research in a press release. “It’s not simply about procedural changes — although policies are critical to the solution — the Blueprint is also about shifting the culture in law enforcement’s approach to sexual assault.”

Busch-Armendariz says sexual assault survivors were not interviewed for this specific blueprint, but the Institute used previous interviews with survivors to create the blueprint. Around 23 percent of female college students are victims of sexual assault. 

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