Austin officials on Jan. 23 formally apologized to sexual assault victims who had their cases mishandled by the Austin Police Department and committed to reforms related to the city's response to sex crimes.

The public apology was one term of a settlement with survivors who'd sued the city over allegations of systemic failures in the APD's work and mistreatment of victims over the course of many years.

“Hear me when I say: I and all members of the Austin Police Department are committed to making sure no other survivors go through something like this or something similar in the future," interim Police Chief Robin Henderson said.

The details

Henderson was joined by interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Mills, who oversees public safety departments, and APD Lt. Chris Leleux, who heads the police department's sex crimes and domestic violence units, to deliver the apology. City Council members, County Attorney Delia Garza, and U.S. Rep. Greg Casar were also present, as were several of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the city.

Officials expressed their belief that the past failures don't reflect current city values and stressed their support for ongoing improvements to Austin's work addressing sex crimes.

In 2022, Austin received a comprehensive audit of the APD's handling of sex crimes. And last September, council voted to fund nearly $1 million in initiatives for police response and victim services.

Now, a collaborative between the APD and other community stakeholders has been working to cement long-term systemic changes for survivors in Austin. That work is expected to take at least another year or two, and periodic progress updates will be provided along the way.

“Apologies are important, but they must be combined with introspection and with change," Leleux said. "Since the settlement of the survivor lawsuit, APD has embarked on a project looking at every aspect in which our Sex Crimes Unit operates. A team of over 40 project members has been established, including not only APD personnel and leadership but also members from various agency partners throughout Austin and Travis County that are invested in the response, the care and services available to survivors of sexual assault.”

Notable quote

“This is how we ensure that we don’t go back; is that the council stands firm and committed to making this change," council member Alison Alter said. "We set out on this path, we have worked diligently over years, and we are not going to let these women who so bravely stood up and told their stories over and over down. We’re not going to let the other people in our community who might experience violence down. We are going to create a model system that provides justice and healing.”

Something to note

Holly Bowles, director of sexual assault victim advocacy with The SAFE Alliance, also took time during the January event to highlight how many community members might be responding to the update and offer information about available resources in the area.

“If you are a survivor or have had an unwanted sexual experience and you’re having complicated feelings about today, I want you to hear first that you’re not alone," Bowles said. "My hope is that you have a feeling of safety and peace, but it may be difficult or impossible to access those things right now. That’s OK, and you do not have to find them on your own.”

Bowles added that victims can access confidential support through SAFE by calling 512-267-7233 or visiting She also noted that free services are available through the Asian Family Support Services of Austin by calling 877-281-8371 or visiting the organization's website.