Austin American-Statesman – March 9, 2017
8:20 p.m. update: Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, state leaders, lawyers, activists and University of Texas community members gathered Thursday evening to address sexual assault on college campuses and discuss ways to get involved, take action and create change.
Deeds Not Words, the non-profit created by Davis that organized the event, said the goal was to educate the community about how to reduce sexual violence on campus, improve university administrative responses to sexual attacks, and strengthen the criminal justice system when sexual assault cases appear. According to the organization, one in every four women and one in 16 men will be victims of sexual assault during college.
UT President Gregory Fenves made a brief appearance at the beginning of the event to greet a few of the guest speakers. Fenves did not make any comments.
Davis opened up the event discussing the importance of caring and advocating for sexual assault victims through meaningful legislation.
When she was in the Texas Senate, Davis said, she and state Rep. Donna Howard first learned about the large backlog of rape kits in the Texas system, which amounts to about 20,000 untested kits.
“We passed a number of pieces of legislation that were incredibly important to reforming what the system looks like after a survivor has entered the system,” Davis said. “And making sure that that survivor has access to the rights and procedures that he or she ought to have.”
Howard, who was also a speaker, said she was very impressed with the people who had showed up to the event and with Davis’ work with Deeds Not Words. She urged participants to use their voice to have an impact what happens at the capital.
“A lot of us (at the Texas legislature) know very little about the things we vote on. You may know more than the people you’re coming to talk to. It’s important to be confident and know that whatever you have to share it’s important and needs to be heard by the people who represent you.”
After the introduction to the event, several speakers went over the bills that have been filed this legislative session related to sexual assault and the specific issues they would address:
• H.B. 142: Outlaw groping. It would change groping from a third- to a first-degree misdemeanor.
• H.B. 1431: Outlaw sexual assault by coercion. If a victim is coerced into consenting, it would still be considered a sexual assault crime.
• H.B. 281: Rape kit tracking. It would allow victims to track the status of their rape kit in the process.
• H.B. 1729: Fund rape kit testing. It would add donation options to fund rape kit testing.
Sen. Kirk Watson , explained a few of his own legislature that he recently filed.
• S.B. 967: Redefining consent. For the purpose of prosecuting sexual assault cases, “no” would mean no, but the absence of “yes” would also mean no, Watson said.
• S.B. 970: Affirmative consent. For the purpose of prosecuting sexual assault cases, consent would require clear words or actions agreeing to sexual behavior.
• S.B. 966: Good Samaritan. College students who report a sexual assault would not be punished for violating the university’s code of conduct. For example, underage students who were drinking when they witnessed or experienced a sexual assault would not be reprimanded if they report the incident.
• S.B. 969: Amnesty. People who report a sexual assault would not be punished for violating the state’s penal code.
• S.B. 968: Electronic reporting. It would require universities to have an option to report sexual assaults online.
Watson said a few of his bills are likely to be heard by the Texas Senate sometime next week. He expects all of the bills to “easily pass”, except for S.B. 967 and S.B. 970. “Those will be the hardest to pass because they will require the greatest cultural change,” Watson said.
“The way I look at this, I get one shot in making a difference,” Watson said. “You get one shot at making a difference, so let’s do it.”
Earlier: Former state Sen. Wendy Davis is speaking at the University of Texas’ student union to address sexual violence on campus.
The event, “Hands off: Ending Sexual Assault in Texas,” was organized by Davis’ nonprofit Deeds Not Words and is described as an “advocacy training” on how to reduce sexual violence at the university and the state legislative process related initiatives go through.
Davis will open up the event and will be followed by other speakers, a Q&A section and break-out sessions.
Check back on this post for more updates.
Follow American-Statesman reporter Brianna Stone who is tweeting from the event.