UT student, a sexual assault victim, touts ‘no means no’ legislation

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Christina Breitbeil, a senior at the University of Texas who testified at a Senate hearing on Monday about her experience as a victim of sexual assault

It happened when Christina Breitbeil was a junior in high school. Her boyfriend raped her after she got drunk at a party and passed out, even though it was well known to him and other students that she wanted to remain a virgin until marriage, she testified Monday at a state Senate hearing.

Later, at the University of Texas, Breitbeil found that she lacked confidence to resist unwanted sex.

Now, with newfound resolve thanks in part to her association with Deeds Not Words, an Austin-based group that advocates for women’s rights, Breitbeil is proving herself an articulate and confident proponent of sweeping legislation aimed at improving the reporting, disciplinary proceedings and other matters surrounding sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence and stalking at public and private colleges.

It is in part to honor the courage of Breitbeil and other victims that lawmakers are working to enact legislation dealing with sexual assault, whether on or off campus, said Sen. Kirk Watson. The Democrat from Austin authored four bills dealing with the issue that have passed the Senate and is sponsoring a comprehensive House-passed bill that includes many features of his measures. The proposals come amid disturbing reports about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses nationwide.

Breitbeil, who will graduate on Saturday with a double major in English and the Plan II honors program, testified that she was raped a second time in high school, at the age of 17, by a 23-year-old family friend in the back of a truck in the middle of the woods off a country road during a trip to a convenience store.

“One year later I began at the University of Texas with no confidence in my abilities to protect myself from rape and unsure how to handle dangerous situations in the future,” she said. “At this point, the line of consent was blurred for me and I did not know that my ‘no’ and lack of consent meant that sexual activity should not and must not occur.”

That is why House Bill 16, a revised version of which was the subject of Monday’s hearing before the Senate Higher Education Committee, is crucial, Breitbeil said. The measure, authored by Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, and tweaked by Watson, was left pending by the panel. Among its requirements for public and private postsecondary schools:

• Policies that spell out prohibited behaviors as well as procedures for reporting allegations, including online and anonymous reporting.

• Heightening awareness by devoting a web page to the issue with a link on the university’s home page, and by mandating that the topic be included in freshman orientation.

• Amnesty for violating campus conduct codes, such as a ban on underage drinking, for student victims or witnesses who report allegations of sexual assault.

• A disciplinary process that grants the accused and the alleged victim equal access to relevant evidence.

• Training for campus police officers in responding to allegations of sexual assault and harassment, dating violence and stalking.

“It makes it all worthwhile to have courageous young women come down here and talk about what we need to do,” said Watson, who expressed confidence that legislation would be enacted. “The amount of courage it takes is extraordinary, and it’s why we need to pass bills like this. I think we’re at a real turning point in empowering sexual assault victims and changing the culture on campuses.”

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