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Texas Lawmaker Questions Number of ‘Pure, Sober’ Campus Sexual Assaults

Teddy Wilson

A recent report charges that campus sexual assaults involving alcohol or drugs are underreported due in part to "fear of disciplinary consequences."

Texas Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton) said Tuesday during a house committee hearing about sexual assault in higher education that she wanted to know how often a “pure, sober sexual assault” occurred on college campuses.

The Texas House Higher Education Committee held the hearing on policies and initiatives to address the prevention and elimination of sexual assault at the state’s colleges and universities.

“I was listening for mention of drug or alcohol abuse and, you know, I think those two conversations are so intertwined,” Crownover said during the hearing. “I would be curious to see how many times a pure, sober sexual assault happened. And I think that’s something we need to talk about. The two are so intertwined, I don’t see talking about one without talking about the other.” 

“I come from a public health attitude, and everything you hear in public health has to do with drug abuse,” Crownover told the Dallas Morning News after the hearing. “You wonder, if nobody drank, what would happen to rape, car wrecks, all sorts of things.”

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The involvement of alcohol and drugs in campus sexual assaults was among the topics discussed during the committee hearing. According to a recent survey, 18.5 percent of the female undergraduates surveyed at the University of Texas at Austin who had experienced sexual assault since entering college reported that they were “incapacitated” at the time.

“blueprint” for campus police responding to sexual assault, published last month by the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, noted that “the most common sexual assault at [institutions of higher education] are non-stranger cases that involve drug and alcohol use. Research shows that drinking alcohol increases the risk of assault, although alcohol consumption never causes or justifies sexual assault.”

The blueprint report charges that campus sexual assaults involving alcohol or drugs are underreported, due in part to “fear of disciplinary consequences.”

Around 9.2 percent of sexual assaults across the state of Texas are reported to police, according to the report.

Andrea Pino, co-founder and director of policy and support at End Rape on Campus, told Rewire that Crownover’s statements reinforce stigma about sexual assault. 

“These comments illustrate a damaging trend in officials knowing too little about the reality of sexual assault,” said Pino, whose colleague, Annie Clark, co-founder and executive director of End Rape on Campus, testified at the committee hearing. “Too many cases do involve alcohol, and incapacitation does not make an assault less legitimate, as some officials choose to believe.”

Crownover issued a statement to the Dallas Morning News after the hearing saying that her comments had been “taken out of context.” 

“Let me be clear, whether or not the victim of a sexual assault was intoxicated does not mitigate, condone, or excuse the actions of the other party,” Crownover said. “However, I do not think we can properly address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses without also discussing the role drugs and alcohol play in this important issue.”

The Texas legislature convenes once every two years, and during the interim years, committees hold hearings on a variety of subjects to prepare for the next legislative session. Leaders of both the house and state senate direct the committees on what topics and issues to study.

House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) issued a directive in November to the committee on higher education to research and make recommendations about how to stop sexual assault on campuses across the state. 

More than one in four women undergraduate college students were sexually assaulted through physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation during their time on campus, according to a survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU).

Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin were among the 27 universities that participated in the survey.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has investigated dozens of universities across the country for Title IX violations related to sexual assaults on campus. Among the universities investigated was Crownover’s alma mater, Southern Methodist University, which was found to have violated Title IX.

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