On Tuesday, Texas Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) took the courageous action of opposing Senate Bill 576, a dangerous piece of legislation that would disempower countless sexual violence survivors and discourage students from coming forward about these incidents. Under SB 576, colleges would be obligated to institute a mandated reporting requirement for certain incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking, and stipulates that if these incidents are disclosed to either a student leader or an employee but not reported to the school, then that person will be suspended or expelled, or in the case of an employee, charged with a misdemeanor criminal offense.
Though this legislation comes from a well-intentioned effort of attempting to hold schools accountable for sweeping sexual assault under the rug, the consequences of this legislation would actually harm the survivors that we are trying to serve, and create a chilling environment that discourages them from seeking help. In fact, the University of Texas recommended the opposite of this bill in its recent climate survey, observing that more confidential resources and fewer mandated reporters would encourage disclosure. As Kaileigh Phillips, a survivor from Trinity University, observed: “Truthfully, being assaulted was not the most traumatizing moment of my sophomore year of college. Rather, the investigation and subsequent conduct board hearing had the most damaging and lasting impacts on my mental health.”
Perpetrators of sexual violence commit these acts out of a desire for power and control. In the aftermath of having experienced this loss of autonomy, the best way we can help survivors is to empower them to decide what is best for them, including the decision about whether or not to report. This is a position that countless victim advocacy organizations have taken. We are heartened that Senator Watson listened to survivors and experts in the field, and we encourage the rest of the Texas State Legislature to do the same.
End Rape on Campus (EROC) is a national non-profit dedicated to ending gender based violence on college campuses through survivor support, prevention through education, and policy advocacy. To learn more about EROC you can visit www.endrapeoncampus.org or follow us on Twitter: @endrapeoncampus.
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