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Texas lawmakers call for financial sanctions in response to Baylor rape scandal

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune
The exterior of McLane Stadium at Baylor University

A group of Democratic state representatives on Monday called for financial sanctions and a criminal investigation into how Baylor University handled widespread allegations of rape against football players and other students in recent years.

"What has happened at Baylor is so far different than any university in the state," said Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio. "We can't stop bad things from happening, but we sure as hell can demand accountability and we sure as hell can demand that people protect our children."

Gutierrez wrote a letter to Abbott asking for a "sizable reduction" in the $10 million in grants that the state sends Baylor "until a thorough investigation is completed, full accountability is realized and concrete measures are in place to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again at Baylor."

Baylor is a private school, so it’s mostly immune to state oversight. But it does receive about $10 million per year in state grants that are passed on to help students with financial need. 

In response to Gutierrez's actions, the university released a statement Monday saying it "has demonstrated a firm commitment to increased awareness and prevention of sexual assault, as well as providing comprehensive support services for any student in need of them."

Gutierrez also filed a resolution on Friday that would ask Gov.Greg Abbott to request a Texas Rangers investigation into whether the school obstructed justice when responding to reports of rapes by students. He said he hopes it will be referred to a House committee for a hearing that would allow lawmakers to learn more about what happened at the university. The non-binding resolution would then go to the full House for a vote.  

Gutierrez was joined by three other lawmakers — Rep. Diana Arévalo, D-San Antonio, Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston and Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston — at a press conference Monday announcing the ideas. Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The private Baptist university is already facing numerous investigations. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has opened an inquiry, the Big 12 Conference is withholding money from the school until it has independently verified changes at the university and Baylor has been sued by multiple former students. 

The school has been mired in scandal over its handling of sexual assault cases since 2015, when football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of raping a fellow student. During Ukwuachu’s trial, testimony revealed that the university investigated his case, but decided not to take any punitive action.

Since then, many more stories of unaggressive handling of allegations of sexual assault have surfaced. In a lawsuit filed in January, attorneys for one victim claimed that 31 football players were responsible for 52 sexual assaults from 2011 to 2014. And an investigation found problems throughout the university — not just the football team. Very few students accused of sexual violence were punished and, at times, administrators engaged in “victim blaming,” the investigators found.

Multiple top administrators, including President and Chancellor Ken Starr, Athletic Director Ian McCaw and football coach Art Briles have lost their jobs over the issues.

The university has admitted that it had many problems in handling sexual violence cases. Investigators hired by the university have recommended 105 policy changes for improvement. So far, the school says, 80 have been implemented.

Baylor school pledged to work with any law enforcement or governmental inquiries. The school noted that the Office of Civil Rights will have representatives on campus this week to meet with staff, students and administrators.

"Our hearts are heavy at the thought of anyone experiencing sexual assault within the Baylor Family. As we have said previously, any such acts are reprehensible and unacceptable," the school said in a statement. "The University remains committed to eliminating all forms of sexual and gender-based harassment and discrimination within our campus community."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/27/texas-lawmakers-call-financial-sanctions-response-baylor-rape-scandal/.

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