Students Are Pushing the University of North Texas to Offer Rape Kits on Campus

At the end of September, researchers at Sam Houston State University's Crime Victims' Institute compiled a study of sexual assault resources offered by 74 Texas colleges and universities for the state legislature. The results were underwhelming.

On the bright side, most of the schools had on-campus clinics offering pregnancy testing and STD screening, counseling services for relationships and sexual victimization issues, and "target-hardening" strategies like self-defense courses and rides home. But the programs, such as they are, tend to place the onus on the sexual assault victim.

As an example, only seven campuses require mandatory participation in sexual assault prevention programs. Another 27 offer them on request. Compare that with the 75 percent of schools that offer alcohol awareness programs.

Small wonder then that, when the academic literature suggests that one in four women will be the victim of sexual assault during their academic careers, more than half of Texas schools reported no forcible sexual assaults in 2011. The remaining 32 institutions reported a total of 45.

"Conservative assessments of unreported forcible sexual assaults among these higher education campuses would suggest that approximately 563 students are actually being victimized in this capacity," the report says. "This does not take into consideration those instances where alcohol intoxication is used as a sexual access strategy to extort sex -- an all too common occurrence among this population."

All of which was prelude for the report's conclusion, which is that Texas universities need to do a take a more emphatic, more comprehensive approach to preventing and dealing with sexual assault.

A quartet of students at the University of North Texas are taking matters into their own hands. Four of them -- Melina Padron, Dexia Smith, Tiffany Contessa and Sabrina Ortiz --are pushing administrators to to begin offering rape kits in the campus health center.

"In a time of crisis like (a rape), your first and foremost thought is not to call the police; the most comforting thing would be to get it done on campus in the most low-key option," Padron, a freshman, tells USA Today.

UNT officials have so far been unmoved by the women's pleas, or the 550 signatures their petition has accumulated. A university spokesman told the paper that the school "can't provide rape kit exams on campus" (we've emailed him to ask why the school's full response is below) and that the lack of a rape crisis center is par for the course in Texas.

That's almost true. The Sam Houston State researchers say three campuses offer rape crisis center, but to them, that's less a model for how things should be done than proof that more are needed.

Here's UNT's full response:

UNT cares deeply about the safety and wellbeing of our students and takes sexual assault crimes very seriously.

When needed, our police are available to provide transportation and a rape kit for evidence collection by a trained professional, but our Student Health and Wellness Center does not provide evidence collection services.

In addition to providing counseling through multiple resources on campus, and advocacy services through a partnership with Denton County Friends of the Family, UNT does provide survivors care for medical issues related to physical injury, sexually transmitted infections and/or pregnancy through our Student Health and Wellness Center.

Evidence collection, or rape kit exams, should be administered by a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse who collects physical evidence to be used at a later time in a criminal case. Right now there are only 5 SANE nurses in the area on call to cover 3 hospitals in Denton County -- Denton Regional, Baylor Carrolton, and Flower Mound, all of which are open 24/7 and have forensic equipment.

SANE nurses offer more thorough exams, they are trained to provide effective courtroom testimony, to collect evidence and know how to properly follow the evidence chain of custody. Though we don't provide rape kit exams on campus, UNT ensures that victims of sexual assault have safe transportation to Denton Regional Hospital, where evidence collection can take place and where sexual assault counselors are provided to help survivors.

Last Thursday (Oct. 31), UNT representatives from the police, dean of students, student health and wellness center, counseling center and student affairs administration met with a group of the petitioning students.

In that meeting our police clarified that they provide transportation to hospitals with SANE nurses or other trained personnel (new law states that all hospitals with emergency rooms are required to assist victims of sexual assault) and carry the kits with them to ensure they will be available to the trained personnel. The students also were offered the opportunity to participate in the recently created (summer 2013) Sexual Assault Prevention Task Force to formulate and enact proactive and preventative measures concerning sexual assault/harassment/misconduct affecting UNT students and employees.

UNT's Student Health and Wellness Center could never compete with the resources available 24/7 at a fully equipped ER. But we do ensure that our police are available to provide transportation and the kits for use by the properly trained personnel.