Texas State offers services for sexual assault victims

Assistant News Editor

The University Police Department (UPD) and other local organizations work in tandem to provide rape kits and other forms of support to survivors of sexual trauma on campus.

The kits consist of diagrams, literature and tools for documenting rapes and collecting evidence, said Whitney Bliss, sexual assault counselor at Hays-Caldwell Women’s Shelter. A certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (S.A.N.E.) must perform the exams.

“It’s a standard process,” Bliss said. “All of the kits have the exact same materials in it, even with instructions on how to do that and how to label it.”

Bliss said everything in the process is standardized, from the kits themselves to the way in which they are used.

S.A.N.E.s cannot ask leading questions and must collect evidence based on what the victims tell them.

UPD keeps three rape kits on site, said Alex Villalobos, sergeant of criminal investigations at UPD.  

UPD officers do not perform the exam because there are no S.A.N.E.s on campus. If a student needs to have an exam, officers look at a schedule to determine where the S.A.N.E. procedure can be performed at area hospitals, Villalobos said.  Students are transported to locations free of charge, he said.

“It does take the right equipment and the right nurse together, but that doesn’t mean that (the exam) isn’t going to happen,” said Gilda Garcia, Title IX coordinator and director of equity and access. “It means that it just takes coordination.”

UPD officials keep the rape kits on campus in case surrounding facilities that perform S.AN.E. exams run out, Villalobos said.

“If (a facility member) were to call us and need a kit, they would get that kit regardless of who the person was,” Villalobos said. “If a facility called and they could not get ahold of someone else, we could provide that kit to them. We’ve done that in the past.”

Victims do not have to report their assaults in order to have access to a rape kit, Bliss said.

“If (the victim is) non-reporting, (the Department of Public Safety) will cover the cost of that kit, and they will hold that kit for two years while (the victim) decides what to do with it,” Bliss said.

Often a victim may not report an incident due to being in shock or denial. According to a study from the Institute of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas at Austin, 80 percent of adults know their perpetrator, Bliss said.

Fear of talking about the assault and cultural or religious stigma surrounding sexual crimes can prevent victims from reporting, Villalobos said.

“Those are all different stressors which can exacerbate the stress (the victims) are already going through,” Villalobos said.

No one is ever forced to undergo a S.A.N.E. exam, he said.

“If you’ve been in a sexual assault situation, you’ve had choices taken away from you,” Bliss said. “They’ll do (the exam) at (the victim’s) pace.”

UPD officials are required to alert the university Title IX coordinator if a student chooses to report his or her sexual assault, Garcia said.

The university is required to conduct its own investigation under Title IX, Garcia said. The guidelines are different than those governing a criminal investigation.

“The police department investigates crimes and assesses the evidence against a standard beyond a reasonable doubt or clear and convincing evidence,” Garcia said.

The university follows a Title IX code, which has a “much lower” standard based on “a preponderance of the evidence,” Garcia said. University officials seek to determine whether a violation of the sexual misconduct policy likely occurred through an investigation that adheres to the Title IX code.

According to an April 21 University Star article, 27 on-campus sexual assaults were reported from August 2014 to March 2015.

“There are so many (incidents) that aren’t reported or don’t meet the standards (of evidence for criminal cases) but still have a big impact on the victims,” Garcia said. “Universities, even now, are still grappling with how to (handle reports) effectively, consistently, fairly and timely.”