New University of Texas at Austin Study Reveals Gaps in Services for Sexual Assault Victims in Texas

Aug. 26, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — A new University of Texas at Austin statewide study reveals significant gaps in services for sexual assault victims and calls for improvements, including additional funding.

Increasing the availability of local sexual assault services and lessening emergency room wait times will lead to stronger cases for prosecution, the researchers said.

The study, funded by the Criminal Justice Division of the Office of the Governor, is the first statewide needs evaluation for adult victims of sexual assault in Texas, according to Dr. Noël Busch-Armendariz, associate professor in the School of Social Work and lead investigator.

Researchers interviewed victims, rape crisis center advocates, nurses, law enforcement officers, victim services professionals and prosecutors across Texas. They found there is a substantial need for more funding, including additional support for those who serve victims.

"Sexual assault crimes persist as a social problem in Texas and the need to propel this issue to the public's attention is pressing," said Busch-Armendariz. "Little is known about the factors that promote or hinder victims to seek services from law enforcement and or victim service organizations. And, less is known about how these gaps in services impact a victim’s experience for a return to full physical, mental and emotional health.

It is critical to develop strategies so that victims can come forward."

When they did come forward, Busch-Armendariz said many victims of sexual assault told researchers that they left emergency departments when they discovered that the wait times for the forensic exam was several hours.

The researchers recommend more funding for sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE), who generally work through hospital emergency departments and are specifically trained to provide medical attention and evidence collection in a victim-centered manner.

The study estimates that Texas spends $42.8 million annually in costs to law enforcement, rape crisis centers, SANE nurse programs, district attorneys and crime victim compensation.

"We believe that the estimates obtained are the most reliable we have in Texas to date, although they are surely an underestimate," said Busch-Armendariz.

To achieve better service, the researchers suggest:

  • Make adequate and stable funding available to all the organizations whose missions are to provide direct services to sexual assault survivors and work on efforts to prevent sexual violence.
  • Strategize innovative ways to enhanced collaboration and communication among organizations that assist sexual assault victims.
  • Recruit and retain the most seasoned professionals in the field.
  • Extend accessible and competent services to all victims of this crime.
  • Initiate courageous victim-centered approaches to all stages of the process.
  • Develop revolutionary educational campaigns to broaden the understanding of this crime and decrease its stigma.

The study was conducted through the university's Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA) where Busch-Armendariz is director. Dr. Shetal Vohra-Gupta, IDVSA post doctoral fellow, was project director.

The research follows Busch-Armendariz's 2003 study, which found that 1.9 million adult Texans (20 percent of women and five percent of men) have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. The 2003 study was the first accurate look at sexual assault rates in Texas, and revealed a much larger problem than previously indicated by crime reports.

"We hope the new study serves as a catalyst and direction for future efforts in addressing sexual assault in Texas," said Busch-Armendariz.

For more information, contact: Nancy Neff; Dr. Noël Busch-Armendariz, 512-751-8337.

4 Comments to "New University of Texas at Austin Study Reveals Gaps in Services for Sexual Assault Victims in Texas"

1.  Mike Halligan said on Aug. 29, 2011

The research supports findings from years ago. This is not new information. The issues are more wide spread than ever imagined. Treatment outcomes are dismal and the connection of trauma to mental illnesses is just emerging in Texas, although the research has been there for years. Probably the most recent compilation of studies was concerning the effects of trauma was published by the National Association of Mental Health Planning Directors in 2003. The information is still accessible on their website.

2.  Noreen Wedman LMHCA said on Sept. 1, 2011

One way to expand services to sexual assault victims is to improve the Crime Victims program. The general public does not know that it is available. Expanding awareness of its availability to victims and the general public would be a start. Secondly, expand Crime Victims coverage to those on medical assistance. Currently Crime Victims is a secondary insurer only. That leaves crime victims, who often lose their jobs to the effects of trauma, to depend on overworked and undertrained staff at public agencies to take care of their urgent counseling needs.
Crime Victims Programs could actively recruit private practice counselors who specialize in Trauma or Sexual Abuse counseling to become Crime Victims Providers. Stabilize Crime Victims reimbursement. Currently CV reimbursement varies quite drastically from year to year to make participation in CVP more attractive to private practitioners. Offer training and licensed qualified supervision, including mindbody therapies, to agencies and Crime Victims Providers. This would increase the professionalism of the CVP and assist Masters level therapists in getting licensure and/or improve clinical skills for responding to sexual assault victims.
For medical and financial reasons, it would improve emergency and urgent care if hospital set up 24-hour urgent care clinics in addition to their emergency rooms. It would be a much better way of triaging life threatening emergencies and provide a lower cost alternative for low income people to get their medical needs met. In addition, medical matters, like sexual assault that need immediate care, would get prompt attention. Since governments usually pick up part of the tab for non critical care at emergencies for low income people, it would also save tax dollars.

3.  Chantel Bottoms said on Sept. 1, 2011

Where can I find a link to the actual study?

4.  Barbara Hanley said on Sept. 1, 2011

This information is indeed not new, it is however generally ignored even by health care providers, the nurses and physicians who work in emergency rooms or urgent care centers where victims are likely to go for assistance. The Health Professions Institute at Austin Community College recently made available an online independent study featuring Keith Crook,RN discussing the physical and emotional care of sexual assault victims as well as the basics of forensic examinations. This program can be accessed by going to http://www.austincc.edu/ce/hpi/ispd.