Texas Senate passes sexual assault bills

Photo credit: Mckenna Middleton

By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer

The Texas Senate passed three bills regarding sexual assault on college campuses this week.

Senate Bill 968 would require all colleges and universities to have a link on the school website’s homepage that allows students to report sexual assault, harassment, stalking and dating violence anonymously.

Senate Bill 969 would require colleges and universities to grant students who report assaults, as well as witnesses, amnesty from punishments for breaking other university rules, such as underage drinking.

Senate Bill 970 would require colleges and universities to have policies on sexual assault that define prohibited behavior, list punishments and explain standards for responding to reported assaults. It would also require schools to educate students and employees about the policies through a handbook and at freshman and transfer student orientation.

If the bills are passed in the House, they will take effect Sept. 1.

All three bills were filed by Texas Sen. Kirk Watson, a Baylor alumnus. In an email to the Lariat in February, Watson said recent incidents at Baylor affected these bills.

“There’s little question that the scandal at Baylor has focused attention and highlighted issues related to sexual assault on campuses,” Watson wrote in the email. “But this isn’t just about Baylor. Institutions across our state and our nation are facing challenges related to sexual assault, and it’s time our state takes a step forward in protecting survivors/victims’ rights.”

Watson said he is aware of recent changes at Baylor to prevent this kind of scandal again but he still believes these bills are relevant and necessary. Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman addressed Baylor’s partnership with legislators in the Title IX process.

“No other university in the country has responded as aggressively and decisively as Baylor regarding incidents of sexual assault on our campus,” Fogleman said. “We are working alongside our legislators, including Senator Watson, and sharing what we have learned from the actions we have taken to improve and strengthen our response to interpersonal violence.”

San Antonio junior Paige Hardy read about Watson’s bills in the Lariat and reached out to him to thank him.

“I contacted Senator Watson to thank him… as a survivor of sexual assault, I think it is very important that we have legislators, especially Baylor grads and especially men, speaking out and doing what they can to help,” Hardy said.

Watson contacted Hardy and invited her to speak at the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee Hearing and give an oral testimony as a survivor of sexual assault.

“A little over a year ago, I was sexually assaulted by a guy I had just met,” Hardy told the committee. “My friends, my family and society have all told me that this was my fault. That because alcohol was involved, I deserved it. That “maybe” means yes and “no” means convince me. That if I didn’t call the police within minutes of my attack, I must be lying.”

Hardy described how the assault has affected her emotionally, spiritually, academically and physically. She urged the committee to vote in favor of Watson’s bills.

“Perhaps sexual assault has never affected you or your family. Perhaps it has never even crossed your mind,” Hardy told the committee. “I was there once, and I miss [not thinking about sexual assault] more than you could ever know. But I will tell you this affects your constituents. On every college campus, there are women and men fighting to get an education while a bureaucratic and social structures protect those who caused them the most pain.”

Hardy recognized that the things mandated in these bills are already in effect at Baylor, but she said she will continue to advocate for survivors for sexual assault all over Texas and the country.

“I don’t want my daughters and sons to have to think about which college treats victims of sexual assault the best,” Hardy said. “I want them to know that they will be protected everywhere.”

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