For Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is personal.
During his years at Princeton University, Cruz spearheaded efforts to fight date rape at the school. In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, he said his focus on the issue was in part inspired by a dark chapter in his family history.
“When I was in student government in college, protecting student safety was a real priority, and no student should ever have to face the threat of sexual assault,” Cruz said in an email to Business Insider. “In my own family, my aunt experienced terrible abuse in prison in Cuba, and that made protecting women from assault all the more personal.”
After leaving Princeton in 1992, Cruz said, he continued his efforts to fight sexual assault.
“Years later, when I was the Solicitor General of Texas, I argued numerous cases where vicious criminals had sexually assaulted women or children. In all my years in law enforcement, there were no cases I was more proud of litigating,” he said.
Cruz, who is widely expected to run for president in 2016, first became involved in Princeton’s undergraduate student government at the end of his first year at the school. In April 1989, he ran to be president of his sophomore class, but he lost that race.
When he returned to school for the fall semester in 1989, Cruz ran for campus and community affairs chair on the student government’s executive board, but he also lost that election. Cruz finally made it into the student government in 1990, when he was named to a permanent committee on campus safety. This position allowed him to work on anti-rape programs at the school.
According to the Daily Princetonian student newspaper, the safety committee was created in response to a rape and stabbing that occurred on the campus within a week of each other in January 1989. In the article about the formation of the committee, other members and the school’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education director said they hoped it could help lead efforts educate students about date rape.
As a member of the safety committee, Cruz earned a reputation as a leading opponent of a plan to lock the entrance ways of undergraduate dorms.
“I personally don’t think it’s the best way of improving safety,” Cruz said. “I think the effect (locked entryways will have) in keeping people out of dorms is negligible. I do think it serves to be an inconvenience of being restrictive.”
In another article about the lock debate, Cruz described them as a waste of money. He also argued they did not confront what he considered the most serious safety issue at the school — sexual assault.
“I am very worried that administration concern for external crime is replacing concern for internal crime,” Cruz said in a 1990 interview with the Princetonian. “The greater problem is date rape, or assaults by other students, which the planned system would do nothing to stop.”
Along with his work on the safety committee, Cruz also initiated another committee dedicated to addressing students’ dissatisfaction with the school’s dining options.
In April 1990, Cruz ran for a position as one of 10 delegates on the student government’s U Council. An ad promoting his candidacy that appeared in the Princetonian touted his work on the food and safety committees as well as his anti-rape activism. The ad noted Cruz “helped implement increased safety and rape education during Freshman week” and that he cosponsored a Take Back The Night march. Cruz won his race and joined the U Council.
Cruz successfully ran for re-election to the U Council in 1991. His efforts to fight date rape were once again a focus of his campaign.
“I’d like to see an increase in lighting and rape prevention education,” he said in an interview with the Princetonian.
Cruz told Business Insider he hoped his work fighting sexual assault at Princeton might have helped encourage some victims to report attacks.
“One of the greatest challenges in preventing sexual assault is that far too many victims are reluctant to report; the greatest cure for that is greater awareness. I hope my efforts had at least some small impact in that regard,” Cruz said.
He also said the issue was “absolutely” still a focus for him as he continued his political career. As evidence that fighting rape remained important to him, Cruz pointed out he was a cosponsor of a bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) designed to make it easier to prosecute cases of sexual assault in the military.
“It’s why I’m working hand-in-hand with Sen. Gillibrand to pass sexual assault legislation for the military, and it’s a major reason why I’ve spent so much of my career supporting law enforcement and seeking to bring criminals to justice,” Cruz said.
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