University of Texas Develops Science-Based Approach to Sexual Assault Response

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The University of Texas (UT) System police have partnered with UT researchers to produce a first-of-its-kind science-based blueprint that recommends how campus law enforcement should respond to sexual assault cases.

“The Blueprint for Campus Police: Responding to Sexual Assault” is based on the integration of science, philosophy, and protocols. UT hopes the document will improve the overall process for handling sexual assault cases, as well as help the system’s 600 campus police officers better understand victims.

UT System Police Director Michael Heidingsfield called the blueprint “a rare and powerful foundation for action.”

“We must publicly acknowledge our moral obligation to understand sexual assault for the life-altering and destructive experience it is, and be champions of those [who have been] victimized,” he said in a press release.

The blueprint’s main objective is to investigate each case while sensitively acknowledging victims in order to minimize unintended consequences.

However, chief author of the blueprint Noel Busch-Armendariz said it offers a multitude of beneficial information beyond the procedural updates.

“The blueprint is proof that science can and should inform police practice,” he said. “[It] is also about shifting the culture in law enforcement’s approach to sexual assault.”

The blueprint provides the science and translation tools officers need to handle complex sexual assault cases; this includes educating them on the neurobiology of trauma, the role of drugs and alcohol, false allegations, forensic interviewing, and the intersection of sexual assault, dating, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence.

In addition, the information focuses on the victim’s perspective while also emphasizing campus safety. Specific areas of focus include improving environmental factors to reduce crimes, understanding controversy relating to crimes, integrating common knowledge about reporting and underreported sexual assaults, increasing reporting strategies, understanding victims’ perspectives, and complying with police procedures while addressing crimes.

“We must listen to victims’ voices and understand their fears and concerns in the context of current science, as well as ensure that our policies and protocols are evolutionary and not stalled in the past,” Heidingsfield said.

The blueprint was developed in support of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to find new solutions to this national problem. UT System police have already begun using the manual to train officers and investigators at UT’s 14 institutions. However, Heidingsfield said he believes it has the potential to become a national model for how to handle sexual assault cases.

“The blueprint will influence law enforcement response to sexual assault beyond Texas college campuses,” he said. “It replaces tradition with science.”