Texas A&M changes handling of sex assault cases after uproar

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Texas A&M University officials said Monday that they are imposing clearer and tougher sanctions for students found responsible for sexual assault and misconduct after multiple women came forward this summer to criticize how their cases were handled.

The changes come two months after a backlash began when a student tweeted how her alleged attacker was allowed to rejoin the swim team after being found responsible for sexual abuse in 2016.

Other current and former Texas A&M students soon after shared their own stories about a system that they said protected the school and the accused, prompting university president Michael Young to launch a review of how cases are handled by the state's largest public university.

New policies include a streamlined reporting process, a predetermined range of sanctions and more investigators. Texas A&M officials also said the dean of students, and not athletic coaches or club leaders, will decide interim restrictions placed on accused students.

"If 'X' happens to you, you can expect 'Y' in return," said Daniel Pugh, Texas A&M's vice president for student affairs. "That was something that didn't exist before."

Texas A&M came under pressure after student Hannah Shaw publicly accused the university of not doing enough to punish her alleged attacker, a swimmer who was suspended for one semester. The Associated Press typically does not name victims of sexual assault, but Shaw has come forward publicly to several news outlets.

Pugh said he could not comment on individual cases when asked whether Shaw's case would have been handled differently under the new framework. But the revised polices call for students found responsible for sexually-based violence or non-consensual sex to serve a minimum one-year suspension, barring "significant mitigating factors." If they return to campus, they would also be barred from receiving scholarships or representing the school.

Abbie Hillis, who graduated from Texas A&M in 2012, accused the university of taking no action when she reported being assaulted at an off-campus party. She is part of a group called the 12th Woman that was included in the review and she told the Austin American-Statesman that the group was excited to continue working with the school.

"Our hope is that other universities see Texas A&M University as a leader and this ignites internal reviews at universities across the country," she said.