By now, most Texans are familiar with the reports of Baylor University’s mishandling of sexual assaults in the past few years — the secrets, the lack of reports, the intimidation, the retaliation, the lawsuits — all at the expense of survivors. As a representative of a state coalition compromised of over 80 programs across Texas seeking to combat sexual violence, I find what Baylor did unacceptable and downright wrong.
While a large number of campuses are doing good work responding to reports of rape on campus, survivors have been going to community sexual assault programs and rape crisis centers for years seeking services away from campus because they are afraid, ashamed, lack support, or are unaware of the campus process. Because of that, advocates at community programs receive training to help understand federal laws and make every effort to increase their presence on campus so that student survivors know that if or when their school fails them, there is a community agency that will not.
When asked what we think university administrators should be doing to support survivors of campus sexual assault, the answer my fellow coalition members and I give is quite simple. Ask for help. Educate yourself and your staff on what sexual violence is and why it happens. Stop blaming victims. Start by believing. Understand the effects that sexual violence has on a survivor. And most importantly, call your local rape crisis center or sexual assault program for help.
In my years working with campuses on sexual violence intervention and prevention, I learned that campuses need to do a better job at reaching out for non-profit community support. In instances of sexual assault response and prevention on campus, a local sexual assault program in the community should be brought in right away because of the experience, expertise and advocacy it can provide. Creating a meaningful and calculated partnership with a community program ensures that a survivor’s rights are taken into consideration, that confidential services can be provided, and that survivors receive off-campus options for counseling, support, and other forms of advocacy. An effective and ongoing relationship between community programs and campus administration on all levels should exist. And if one does not exist yet, then start now.
And when asked what I would say to Baylor University in light of this scandal, the answer is clear and direct. Your response to the rapes of your students is deplorable. The repeated callous mishandling of their reports and your indifference toward these rape survivors very well may have resulted in more victims on your campus, as the undeniable message to your students was that one can rape with impunity and with the protection of high-level administrators.
When a system places the protection of an athletic team and its players over the protection, safety, and rights of survivors and the student body as a whole, it establishes an environment of mistrust and a culture of shame and silence. Your students, faculty, alumni, and staff deserve better than that. Your institution deserves better than that. Waco deserves better than that. It is up to you to take the recommendations given to you to improve your response and shift your campus culture. You are responsible for making sure that all survivors feel safe and trust that their right to access education free from violence and harm is available to them. This is your chance to do better, and we are all counting on you.
Rape crisis centers and sexual assault programs in Texas have been responding to and supporting survivors for a long time, some for over 40 years. They are good at what they do, and they are willing to help.
Getting survivors to trust you enough to report their rape rests on what you do next. And the members of our coalition can say wholeheartedly and with sincerity that we are here to help enhance your efforts, connect you with your local program, and provide you with resources, training, and a voice at the table. So far, your staff changes are a step in the right direction. Keep moving forward. We expect no less because the well-being of present, and future, survivors on your campus depends on it.