After Rape Crisis at Baylor, Five New Bills Target Campus Sexual Assault

Austin Sen. Kirk Watson says sexual assaults at his alma mater, left him disappointed – and looking for a way to help victims get justice.

By Alexandra HartFebruary 23, 2017 5:36 pm| ,

Tuesday, Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) filed five bills addressing sexual assault on private and public college campuses. The bills, which address what constitutes consent in sexual activity and allows for protections for victims and witnesses of sexual assault, come on the heels of sexual assault allegations against members of Baylor University’s football team.

“I love my school, but I’ve been extraordinarily disappointed,” Watson told Lauren McGaughy with the Dallas Morning News. “I actually think there is a real feeling that we need to address sexual assault. … It’s a bear in the room.”

The bills would affect campuses across the state, McGaughy says, and would set down a standard for how institutions respond to incidents of sexual assault. The bills also would encourage people to report instances of sexual assault of which they are aware.

SB 967 closes loopholes in the Texas Penal Code definition of consent. It establishes that “No” means “No” and a anything short of enthusiastic verbal consent also means “No.” Consent is also lacking if actor knows the other person is “incapable of appraising the nature of the act” and the other person persists even after the other person has withdrawn their consent.

SB 970 would mandate that the state set an affirmative consent standard that would affect all private and public college campuses.

SB 966 would protect minors who report sexual assault from being prosecuted for underage possession or consumption of alcohol.

SB 969 gives amnesty to students who violate a student conduct code if they are a victim of sexual assault or a reporting witness.

SB 968 would direct college campuses to give students and employees the option to anonymously electronically report an incident of sexual assault, family violence, or stalking.

Mcgaughy says setting sexual assault standards on college campuses is a bipartisan issue that has become a priority for both the House and the Senate this legislative session.

SB 968 is the most likely to make it through the legislative process, McGaughy says.

“It’s easy to do the reporting mandates,” she says. “We already require schools to have some kind of a web page and way of dealing with sexual assault incidents. But encouraging better reporting is something [where] most people are behind.”

Another bill that Watson is co-authoring with Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Dallas) would allow employees and students who are head of student organizations to be fined or jailed if they fail to report sexual harassment, sexual assault, family violence or stalking within 48 hours of the incident taking place. If there is a failure to report, the person could face misdemeanor charges. If there is repeated failure to report the charges could be moved up to a felony.

“That one goes much farther than almost any other state in the country,” McGaughy says. “[Some people say] this would put Texas definitely at the top of some of the most aggressive anti-campus rape legislation.”

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.