Campus sexual assault case ‘loopholes’ could get the ax with proposed bills

University of Texas at Austin fountain (KXAN Photo)
University of Texas at Austin fountain and tower (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Senator Kirk Watson is looking to close what he calls loopholes in the Texas Penal Code when it comes to sexual assault and consent.

A 2015 survey reveals how many sexual assaults may be taking place on the University of Texas at Austin campus. At UT, 18.5 percent of female undergraduate students and 5 percent of male students said they had been the victim of sexual assault, by force or incapacitation since the time of their enrollment.

“It’s hard to find somebody who doesn’t know someone who has been sexually assaulted,” Grace Gilker, a UT Student who works with the UT Women’s resource center says. She’s grateful Sen. Watson is taking a stance on sexual assaults on campuses.

“Students on college campuses have the right to be safe and have the right to feel safe and so these bills are meant to help that,” Sen. Watson said.

He’s introduced two bills filed that address weaknesses in how the law and institutions of higher education interpret consent for sexual activity.

SB 967 closes “loopholes” in the Penal Code’s definition of “consent” for sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault in the following ways:

  • Establishes that consent is lacking any time the actor knows the other person is incapable of appraising the nature of the act.
  • States that consent is lacking if the actor persists after he/she knows that the other person has withdrawn consent.
  • Removes as a defense the claim that the actor believed the other person consented if a reasonable person should have known or understood that consent was lacking.

SB 970 requires an affirmative consent standard across all institutions of higher education.

“The presumption ought to be that we have control of our own bodies until we indicate otherwise,” Sen. Watson said. “Frankly, I don’t think a woman should have to object in order to be in control of her body and have that right to privacy.”

Three other bills would address the reporting of sexual assault on campus.

SB 966 protects minors from being prosecuted for underage possession or consumption of alcohol who report sexual assault to the following:

  • health care providers
  • law enforcement personnel
  • Title IX coordinators .

SB 969 provides amnesty to students who commit a student conduct code violation ancillary to a sexual assault incident if they are a victim of that sexual assault or a reporting witness.

SB 968 requires institutions to provide an option to students and employees to electronically report an incident of sexual assault, family violence or stalking. The electronic option must include the option to report anonymously.

“It’s an incredibly relieving development to see out of the State Capitol, especially as a foil to some of the more concerning developments we’ve seen on sexual assault policy at the national level,” Gilker, said, adding, if these laws pass, it would be monumental in helping change the rape culture at campuses across the state.

“It takes some outside, you could say ‘impartial organization,’ to make sure that survivors get the support and the justice that they deserve,” Gilker said.

The bills will now go to the Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to decide what committee they will be heard in.

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