DPS: Registered sex offenders are at most universities

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - One in four female college students are victims of sexual assault, according to data provided by The Houston Area Women's Center.

More than 90 percent of those victims are raped by someone they know, but that still leaves hundreds of other young women every year who are sexually assaulted by strangers.

It happened to Larisa, 19, at the University of Texas in Austin last year.

"He was like, 'It's unsafe for you to be out at night. I can just give you a ride,'" Larisa said.

The life-changing experience that followed has prompted some to ask whether students are generally at risk with the presence of convicted sex offenders on campus.

Local 2 Investigates discovered that almost every campus, big and small, across the Lone Star state has registered sex offenders as students and employees, according to data collected from the Texas Department of Public Safety. The DPS website breaks down sex offender information by campus.  

The University of Houston's main campus topped the list for the number of registered sex offenders of major schools in Texas, with 9, according to the state.

DPS disclaims the information the agency provides on the website as having the possibility of being out-of-date and inaccurate.

University of Houston officials said the numbers on the state website are grossly inflated. Executive Director of UH Media Relations sent the following statement.

"We are committed to doing our utmost to maintain the overall safety and security of our campus.

"The University of Houston complies fully with the Federal Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act requiring institutions of higher education to advise the campus community of where law enforcement agency information about registered sex offenders in the state can be obtained. According to our enrollment and employee records, the information provided to us by KPRC indicating the number of registered sex offenders on the UH campus is inflated and inaccurate.

"While it is an important resource of benefit to the public, it is worth noting that the website housing the Texas Sex Offender Database states that the Department of Public Safety 'cannot guarantee the records obtained through this site relate to the person about whom information is sought. Searches based on names, dates of birth, or other alphanumeric identifiers are not always accurate. The only way to positively link an individual to a specific sex offender record is though fingerprint verification... Extreme care should be exercised in using any information obtained from this website. Neither DPS nor the State of Texas shall be responsible for any errors or omissions produced by secondary dissemination of this information.'"

Two universities KPRC Local 2 surveyed had no registered sex offenders affiliated with the school -- Rice University and The University of St. Thomas.

Although a subject of much debate, it is generally accepted that public universities have less latitude than private universities in limiting sex offenders from campuses.

Perhaps, more importantly, there does not appear to be a direct correlation between the number of registered sex offenders on campus and the number of incidents of sexual assault.

"The vast majority of perpetrators of sexual assault on any campus are going to be somebody the survivor knows. It is a very rarely a registered sex offender," said Dr. Jane Morgan Bost, associate director for Prevention and Outreach Services at the University of Texas Austin.

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