By Paige Lambert
Sexual assault is never an easy topic to discuss.
Hays County, Hays Caldwell Women’s Center officials and school districts are trying to open the conservation about the reality of sexual assault.
Melissa Rodriguez, HCWC director of development and community partnerships, said conversations about sexual assault were generally closed minded before NFL player Ray Rice assaulted his fiancée in 2014.
“In general I think people are against sexual assault on a surface level,” Rodriguez said. “But when it is applied in real life, the victim’s experience is that they don’t get a lot of support.”
Rodriquez said local entities and law enforcement have improved on how they handle sexual assault cases.
She said law enforcement partnerships have helped decrease the number of reports, even though low numbers don’t always reflect the true amount of incidents.
She said many victims don’t report because the process can be emotionally difficult and they may feel attacked.
“Someone just violated your body and you’re having to give up your clothes and answer a bunch of questions you have to be very detailed, “ Rodriquez said. “As the victim, you just want to forget about it and press reset.”
Under new state laws, victims can receive an examination and help before reporting the attack. They have up to two years to report it.
Prior to the new law, the stigma was if a victim didn’t immediately remember the incident or press charges, it wasn’t as severe as thought.
“When a trauma has occurred, your brain processes information in a way that is not easily explained,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t remember everything in the way that it happened, you’re not going to remember it in a chronological order.”
Allowing victims to process the trauma and receive help has led to more people reporting attacks, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said reporting sexual assault has been an issue within school districts for victims and those who suspect it. District staff members are required by law to report any suspicion of sexual assault.
Tim Savoy, Hays CISD public information officer, said many students report cases or suspicions of abuse to trusted adults, such as teachers.
“There’s a lot of great things coming out of the district, but you aren’t going to be immune to human behavior,” Savoy said. “So we see it and as we get larger, we will probably see more of it.”
In some districts, staff report the incident to authority figures first or allow administration to decide if it needs to be reported to law enforcement, Rodriguez said.
Savoy said he was recently notified of when staff allegedly handled the suspicion of a sexual assault incorrectly.
“If someone is trying to report it and don’t think we are taking it seriously, then take it to the next level,” Savoy said. “I know what’s easier said than done, because it takes courage to even do that one report.”
People can text or call a hotline if they don’t feel comfortable reporting, Savoy said.
The district also posts information and holds “Girl Talk, Boy Talk” events to open the dialogue about sexual assault, he said.