UT conference debates occurrance of sexual assault on campus

Students and faculty at University of Texas at Austin are discussing the occurrence and prosecution of sexual assault on campus.

The sexual assault conference held this weekend includes presentations from professors, psychologists and legal experts.

“I don't think people really like to talk about it out loud. It's kind of one of those issues that people kind of want to pretend don't exist, but I definitely think that it's there and it's scary,” said Amanda Pinney, a junior at the university.

Some statistics say sexual assault is so common on college campuses that one in four women become victims. That's a number that those at UT's sexual assault conference are debating.

“We are trying to put those statistics in some context. A lot of what is being called sexual assault is not necessarily rape as traditionally defined. Much of this includes things like an unwanted kiss or unwanted touching or definitions of sexual assault that really do not in any way meet the legal definition,” said UT Professor Thomas Hubbard. 

“I think sometimes it's probably under reported, because many people who are probably assaulted don't want to come forward and say so because they're embarrassed,” Pinney said. 

Federal regulations regarding sexual assault on college campuses have changed over the years. All colleges and universities that receive federal funding were sent a "Dear Colleague" letter in 2011 from the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education. The letter required that universities address sexual assault on campus. After that many universities increased suspension or expulsion of students accused of sexual assault. 

“A lot of these are resulting in procedures that are very unfair to the accused and we've heard of a number of cases where universities have in turn been sued by male students who were expelled based on investigations that were deeply flawed or failed to take into account key evidence,” said Hubbard. 

Hearings held at the university level cannot include cellphone records, emails, or confrontation of the victim. Hubbard said that makes it difficult for colleges to resolve accusations of sexual assault on campus.

“I think almost all of us here at this conference want to see justice and reach a balance between addressing the very real needs of those who have been victimized and on the other hand maintain due process for the accused,” said Hubbard.

People at the conference also talked about what constitutes consent when it comes to sexual contact. Some believe a verbal, “Yes,” is required, while others feel that unless someone says, “No,” contact is considered consensual.

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