The sexual assault scandal at Baylor University is still a dark cloud hanging over its football program, its athletics department, and the school as a whole. For those who don’t know the whole story, a lawsuit was filed in early 2017 in which lawyers identified 52 “acts of rape,” including two gang rapes by 10 or more players, over the past four years.
Unfortunately, the sexual assaults did not come as a huge shock to coaches or administrative staff in the university’s athletic department. In fact, the football team’s coaches have faced serious accusations that they actually encouraged a “show ‘em a good time” culture at the university where sex was used to recruit players. One team player had been accused of rape in the past. Baylor officials not only failed to report, much less investigate the allegation, they reportedly offered to pay for the victim’s education in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement.
It’s a story that swept the university and its alumni with a wave of revulsion as the reports of sexual misconduct surrounding the football program began to emerge. Former university President Ken Starr, head football coach Art Briles, and athletic director Ian McCaw all lost their jobs as the scandal unfolded.
To put this in perspective, there hasn’t been a scandal this big since Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach at Penn State, was accused of sexually molesting a series of young boys. In that case it was alleged, though never documented, that legendary Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno was made aware of the accusations years before Sandusky was arrested and never reported it.
The scandal cost both men their legacy.
The Penn State/Baylor scandals speak to a deep-seated problem in many college football programs across the country. There is a recurring practice by university officials not to reveal or even investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in their athletic programs. It creates an unholy appearance that these officials either support or are indifferent to a climate of sexual misconduct on their campuses.
Sexual misconduct in the university setting does not always involve dozens of victims or football players.
California lawmakers and victims rights advocates have fought for harsher sex crime penalties after Brock Turner received six months in jail for raping an unconscious woman while he was a student at Stanford. Last year California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law two pieces of legislation toughening the handling of sex offense cases, including one that requires mandatory prison time. This harsh legislation came in response to the social and political outrage triggered by the Brock Turner sentence.
And now Texas lawmakers are trying to use the Baylor University sex scandal to pass legislation designed to hold school employees and administrators accountable when they are made aware of sex crimes on campus and do not report it.
What Is SB 576?
In the beginning of April, the Texas Senate approved SB 576. The bill requires all school employees and the “highest ranking member of a student organization” to report allegations of sex crimes (including sexual assault, family violence, or stalking) within 48 hours of learning about the allegations. The employees or leaders must report the allegations to the school president or CEO, and are restricted from asking another person to make this report.
If it is revealed that an employee knew about a sex crime allegation and failed to report it to the proper authorities, they will face a Class B misdemeanor. If they made an effort to conceal a report, they will face a Class A misdemeanor. Student leaders may be expelled or suspended for up to one year if they are convicted.
The bill passed with a 30-1 vote, and interestingly enough, the one dissenting vote was actually a co-author of the bill, Senator Kirk Watson. The reason? Watson tried to add an amendment that would release the restriction on leaders and employees if the victim specifically asked them not to report the crime. His argument was that without that amendment, victims would be less likely to come forward or confide in anyone.
Watson’s argument is valid, especially considering the fact that sex crimes are greatly underreported, both on college campuses and otherwise. In fact, the National Research Council believes that up to 80% of sexual assaults go unreported.
Why Up to 80% of Sex Crimes Go Unreported
There are a lot of reasons why sexual assaults and other sex crimes go unreported. If physical evidence is not available to demonstrate a sexual assault, victims may be afraid that their accusations will not result in a conviction. Beyond this, victims are often made to feel shame for making accusations, and many feel embarrassed and ashamed just for being sexually assaulted in the first place. Some may simply want to put the nasty incident behind them and move on with their lives.
The goal with laws like SB 576 and the discussions that result from scandals like Baylor or Penn State is to change our culture’s attitude about sex crimes and encourage more survivors to come forward.
This is a valuable and noble goal, but Watson’s dissent over SB 576 raises some important points: will the mandatory reporting required under the law actually lead to fewer survivors coming forward? Is it really the job of the government to mandate reporting to authorities? What if survivors don’t want to press charges? What if they simply want help recovering from the ordeal and have no interest in reliving it by going through a trial? What if a survivor begs someone not to report the incident? Could it cause those in positions of power to lose trust?
Obviously, these situations are fraught with complications and strong emotions. If you learn about an alleged sex crime, current law says you could potentially face criminal charges if you don’t report it. Understand your options fully before making that decision – reach out to a sex crimes lawyer immediately.