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Senator, Baylor graduate files bills aimed at strengthening laws against sexual assault

Source: Texas Senate Source: Texas Senate
(Source: KXXV) (Source: KXXV)
TEXAS (KXXV) -

A state senator and Baylor graduate filed several bills aimed at strengthening laws against sexual assault.

One of the bills (SB 970) filed by Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin would require an affirmative consent standard to all public and private university.

This means words or actions requires words or actions that demonstrate a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. In addition, under the proposed bill, a person’s silence or the absence of the words “no” doesn't establish consent.

In a written statement, Watson said in cases were a survivor is unconscious, incapacitated or drugged, affirmative consent is very important.

"'No' means no," Sen. Watson said. "But the absence of 'yes' should also mean no."

Rebecca Farrar, a Baylor University student, said she supports the proposed legislation.

"I think these laws help in that they hold language that is more detailed. It's more a lot less likely to be misunderstood in a case and that helps a lot of keeping people accountable on what is sexual assault and what is consent,” Farrar said.

In addition, she said the Baylor administration and some judges have outdated ideas regarding how someone asks for consent.

"At the end of the day is a change in a matter of thinking, a change in interpretation of what consent and sexual assault is so it's going to take a while but this will definitely move us in the right direction,” Farrar said.

Baylor sophomore Jackie Wittry said she and other Baylor students learned about consent through a video during a Title IX class.

"Though the course is mandatory, it doesn't say that just because someone doesn't say yes, it doesn't mean they're saying no,” Wittry said.

The bill would require universities to include these policies in the student’s handbook and online.

However, some students are still unclear about what they mean.

“It should be black and white. Just being on campus, there are a lot of questions about what makes up consent,” Baylor freshman Andrew Gochis said.

Gochis said the university has taken significant steps to improve in the sexual assault 

Three other bills would protect minors who report sexual assault from being prosecuted for underage possession or consumption of alcohol. Another one, provides amnesty to students who violate the student code of conduct but are a victim of sexual assault or a witness (SB 969). The other bill, requires institutions to provide an online form to report sexual assault or family violence anonymously. Baylor University currently has an online form used for reporting that has the option of remaining anonymous.

Baylor University spokeswoman Tonya Lewis said the university does not comment on pending legislation. 

However she added the following:

“Baylor University took unprecedented corrective actions that led to leadership changes within the University administration and athletic department and 105 recommendations that have been well-documented to strengthen the safety and security of our students. No other university in the country has responded as aggressively and decisively as Baylor regarding incidents of sexual assaults on its campus,” Lewis said.

She said that Baylor has demonstrated a commitment to increase an awareness and prevention of sexual assault, including investing in its Title IX office and requiring students and staff to have Title IX training. In addition, she said the university provides support services for students in need of them.

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