Rape victim pushes for changes at SMU

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by REBECCA LOPEZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @rlopezwfaa

WFAA

Posted on September 28, 2012 at 10:24 PM

Updated Saturday, Sep 29 at 9:51 AM

UNIVERSITY PARK -- SMU has been criticized recently for dragging its feet on some sexual assault cases.

Rape cases are heard by a student-faculty disciplinary council that hears both sides. Sometimes that can take months, while the victim and the suspect stay on campus together.

Now some are calling for change.

Cortney Underwood is an SMU graduate, but also a rape victim.

“We look at the past and say what we have been doing clearly doesn't fix the problem," Underwood said.

She was raped as a teenager, and is now an advocate for rape victims. She said it's time for her alma mater to change the way it deals with sexual assaults.

“This isn't me saying they are doing something wrong," Underwood said. "It's me saying maybe this isn't the best system."

SMU, like many universities, deals with sexual assaults by quietly handling them using disciplinary panels. Victims go through the same process as students being disciplined for things like cheating. The hearings are held behind closed doors. The process can take months.

One recent case took seven months to get through the system and get to the Dallas District Attorney’s office.

“I think this has really given SMU an opportunity to step up and say, 'We are a university where if you are a victim, you have a voice,'" Underwood said.

She has successfully helped launch a rape crisis center in Dallas, and is working to get more hospitals to offer rape testing for victims.

Now she is working with big donors at SMU to help her create a task force made of prosecutors, police and faculty to expedite sexual assault cases.

SMU said it’s mandated to have these types of hearings, but also encourages victims to file criminal charges to get the cases rolling.

News 8 has learned there is a meeting between the President of SMU and District Attorney Craig Watkins on Monday to talk about improving their working relationship.

E-mail rlopez@wfaa.com

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