New UT study prompts campus police to create new protocol when responding to sexual assaults

UT police are changing the way they interact with sexual assault survivors. As one woman tells FOX 7, officers who responded to her case greatly affected her recovery. A new UT study about the issue is inspiring law enforcement across the country.

What happens among students on the UT campus doesn't always make it into the police department. Specifically, reports of sexual assault. Jennifer Thompson knows why. She lived it.

"It took me a good two years to come forward and report,” said Thompson.

While attending a university in the Midwest, Thompson was sexually assaulted in a rehabilitation center after having suffered a stroke.

"There was a social worker there who was serially preying on patients. So I was not the only victim he had,” said Thompson. "I tried to go on with my life. I tried to assume that things would be okay. That things would be normal, but you can't."

When Thompson went to police, she was impressed with how she was treated.

"I was believed. I wasn't questioned. I wasn't interrogated. I wasn't asked a lot of why questions,” said Thompson.

That isn't always the norm.

Thompson's insight, as well as that of other sex assault advocates, is included in a new study called The Blueprint for Campus Police:  Responding to Sexual Assault.  It was created by the UT Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Read the entire report here.

As institute project director Caitlin Sully explains the data will help campus police develop protocols to insure all survivors have a positive experience.

"When it is done appropriately with compassion and support, it can be helpful to that survivor and to their healing process and to help the criminal justice process to move forward so that offenders can be held accountable and so that we can help keep campus communities safe,” said Sully.

UT System Police Director Michael Heidingsfield has already begun training officers on the 14 campuses he oversees.

"We say to them in training if you encounter this circumstance when you're with a sexual assault survivor, this is how to interpret that, this is how to translate that and you'll help that victim make a coherent account of what happened,” said Heidingsfield. “So it not only makes us a partner in establishing what actually occurred but it makes us part of the process by which the victim is restored. They come away feeling empowered, they've been understood and someone has embraced them."

"It's not just helpful for their case. It's helpful for the healing of a survivor and it makes a lifetime of a difference,” said Thompson.

Reporting has tripled in recent years here at UT in Austin. In the 2011-12 school year, two assaults were reported. Compare that to 23 in the 2013-14 school year.
Researchers say reporting doesn't mean more assaults have occurred, but that students are now trusting that law enforcement will support them if they come forward.

The statewide average for reporting sex assault currently stands at a slim 9 percent.

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