UT System hopes to decrease incidents of sex assault

The University of Texas System is leading the nation in a comprehensive study of sexual assaults. Hoping the end result will be prevention.

UT Austin is only one of about 13 campuses that will be included in the sex assault study. They want to know who's being affected, how often and ways we can prevent it.

It's a new approach to a persisting problem. Understanding sexual assault on campuses under the University of Texas System, in order to better tackle it.

"Our notion is while it's a four year study, we hope to already begin to impact practice after the first year. Then ultimately after four year, we'll have very rich data that allows us to lead the way in the nation in terms of how to respond to sexual violence," says Wanda Mercer, UT System's associate vice chancellor for student affairs.   

The idea of a comprehensive study was sparked by Chancellor William McRaven, who took office in January. With nearly 217,000 students on their campuses, he wanted to ensure safety. Now, rather than later.

"Understanding the incidents and prevalence of sexual violence, understanding how victims and non-victims feel, understanding how campus police officers, campus officials, students, faculty and staff feel," says Mercer.

That's why UT Austin's Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault was contacted. It has some of the world's leading researchers on this issue, including Noel Busch-Armendariz who will head the study.

"The research will help us reach toward what the new goals should be, where we should put resources, how we understand the problem better, how we provide intervention," says Busch-Armendariz.

They aren't the only ones tackling the issue. Kyle Bush is involved with "Not On My Campus," an organization that was started in March and quickly gained national attention.

"One, I knew that sexual violence was an issue that happened on campus. Two, I knew it was an issue that not many people wanted to talk about. So I just thought that this was an organization that was going to be able to break the silence on sexual violence and start addressing the issues," says Kyle Bush, student.

The UT System will put $1.7 million toward the multi-year study. They'll be looking at sexual assaults, dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment.

"It's such an increasing problem that sometimes goes ignored. Sometimes women don't even bother; they're scared to speak up against it. Finding ways to help improve it so that it's prevented. It's an amazing thing that I greatly appreciate as a woman. Somebody's trying to keep an eye out for me," says Khrystyane Lopez, employed by UT.

The ultimate goal is that with increased education, incidents of sexual assault will decrease.

In a past study the lead researcher, Noel Busch-Armendariz, found that 413,000 Texans experienced sexual assault in 2014. Only 9 percent reported the incidents to law enforcement.

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