BU sexual assault victim testifies on bill to change transcript rules

(Sierra Smith, junior at Baylor University)
(Sierra Smith, junior at Baylor University)(KWTX)
Published: Apr. 19, 2017 at 11:29 PM CDT
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A sexual assault victim at Baylor University who says her attacker was allowed to transfer to avoid punishment, is helping push new legislation to keep it from happening to others.

Sierra Smith, 21, says Baylor found her attacker, a fellow student she knew, guilty after he raped her during spring break of 2016 in South Texas.

About a month or so after the attack, Smith went to Baylor's Title IX Office to file a complaint. Smith says she was told if she went to police, the case could take up to five years to be finished, but if she went through Title IX, it should only take 60 days.

"I don't want to have to deal with this for five years," she thought. "I don't want to have to think about it it every day."

Under Title IX, university's have a 60-day investigation timeline, but it's not a requirement.

In Smith's case, it took four-five months for a conclusion to be reached, giving her attacker time to transfer to another university in Georgia before having to face his punishment from Baylor, a three semester suspension, and there was no record of the misconduct on his transcript.

"I don't think it's fair that somebody who was found guilty, who was given a punishment, is able to just walk away from it like it never even happened,” said Smith.

"If this happens again at his new school, there's no record that he's done this before, so the girl will go through the same process that I did and he can try and leave again.”

The Baylor junior said she was an honors student on the Dean’s List before her assault, but now she’s struggling academically.

“If my university had kept his transcript, if they had let the other universities know why this boy was trying to leave, then maybe I would be the one doing great things and he would be the one facing the consequences,” said Smith.

Smith said her attacker tried to appeal the decision twice, but the school upheld the guilty verdict.

"It sucks because I'm the one paying for what he did,” she said.

Last week, Smith testified before the Texas House Committee on Higher Education in support of House Bill 3142, saying she felt like her university let her down because her attacker essentially got away with it unscathed.

“Today, I go to a school that I do not feel safe at,” said Smith to the committee. “I do not feel that my school did what they could to protect me, and I do not feel like they are doing what they can to protect other girls."

HB 3142 would require all Texas colleges and universities receiving state funding to mark the transcripts of students suspended or expelled for any reason, including sexual assault, even after they transfer to another school. In addition, the bill would keep the institutions from releasing the transcripts of students who are under investigation for sexual assault while the investigation is still underway.

“After hearing stories about perpetrators of sexual assault transferring to a new college, I filed legislation to alert the new school of a prior conduct violation,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington.

Turner, who is a member of the committee, said the bill would ensure students who commit serious offenses can’t withdraw to avoid the hearing process, the determination, or the notation on their transcript.

“This is being done by several Texas schools already and is a valuable tool to help ensure that sexual assault offenders won’t be able to just drop out and move on to a new school, where more students may be victimized as a result,” he said.

The bill needed some wording revised, but was expected to be voted out of committee in two weeks and would possibly make it to the Texas House floor sometime in May.

If approved by the state House and Senate, the change in law would be applied to the 2017 fall semester.

A Baylor spokesperson said the university is reviewing the legislation.

“Our students and their safety and well-being remain a top priority,” said Lori Fogleman, Assistant Vice President of Media Communications.

Smith applauded the changes happening as a result of the university’s sexual assault scandal, but wanted to tell Baylor officials they could still do more.

"Everything that you’re doing, firing staff, getting new coaches, it's great, but there's still more,” she said. “Just because you're doing what you're doing now and you're doing something, doesn't mean there's not more that you could be doing.”