Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force: ‘What We Have Learned?’

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The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force, which falls under the Office of the Texas Governor, discussed its first biennial report findings during a webinar on Thursday.

The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force was created in 2021 when Senate Bill 476 was passed in the 87th legislative session. SB 476 “requires all Texas counties to form an adult Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in an effort to create a statewide infrastructure of resources, awareness, connection, and coordination to address sex crimes locally,” per the governor’s webpage.

Texas implemented mandated adult SART teams for all 254 counties, with oversight from the county Commissioner’s Court. In rural countries, the bill allows two or more neighboring counties with a population of 250,000 or fewer to form a multicounty response team.

Response teams are formed by a group of organizations and agencies that work together to provide comprehensive assistance for adult sexual assault survivors. These teams must adhere to certain conditions, such as conducting regular meetings, having six mandated members, including the appointment of an elected presiding officer or coordinator, adhering to specific evaluation criteria, case reviews, and four hours of cross-training per year. SARTs also create a written protocol for their approach to providing support and care to adult survivors in their respective counties.

The webinar, “SARTs in Texas: What We Have Learned and What’s Next,” was led by two prominent figures in the field: Rose Luna, CEO of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, and Deepika Modali, SART project coordinator.

Luna and Modali provided a comprehensive analysis and insights into the first statewide SART biennial reports.

The discussion centered around the significance of working together and communicating effectively amongst the various agencies and organizations involved in responding to sexual assault cases. The need for continuous training and education was also talked about to ensure that all members of the SARTs are equipped with up-to-date information, skills, and resources that enable them to provide empathetic and effective care to survivors of sexual assault.

“We address the reality on the ground,” said Luna, adding, “SART is a place where we can connect the dots and hopefully fill in the gaps.”

Modali noted that prior to SB 476’s implementation, approximately 33% of Texas counties had a SART. Since the bill was enacted, roughly 53% of Texas counties have a SART.

“This makes me hopeful to see such a huge jump in a couple of years,” said Modali, adding that “the bill is a great framework.”

In the first biennial report evaluation, Modali explained that 57 reports were received, representing 93 of the 136 counties known to have an established SART. Forty-six reports were from individual counties, and 11 encompassed regional SART reports.

The report evaluation showed that most SARTs had all six mandated members, primarily met quarterly, and collected data focused on law enforcement. However, the law enforcement data received was not consistent throughout, as reported by The Dallas Express.

The case reviews submitted in the reports showed numerous concerns, such as the Tarrant County SART noted a “gap in victims services due to [the] case not being solved,” per Modali’s presentation. Wilson County found “that there was a disparity between law enforcement and delivery of essential resources.” Borden, Glassrock, Howard, Martin, and Scurry Counties noted concerns in hospital wait times for victims of sexual assault with limited availability of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner exams, better known as SANEs.

Concerns noted also served as focal points for improvement. For example, Jefferson County will be “looking more deeply into how sex offenders are tracked and monitored through probation, parole and afterward,” per Modali’s presentation.

The report evaluations also noted positives, including Blanco, Burnet, and Llano’s Regional SART, which “created a system for data collection” and saw a 30% increase in sexual assault hotline calls and a “275% increase in SANE accompaniments.”

Luna explained that, based on the evaluation of the county reports, each county is at a different phase in establishing its SART; however, progress is being made and tracked.

“We learned that this is a very new process, and we are still trying to figure out what is the best way to move forward,” explained Modali.

Some of the ways Modali recommended moving forward include adding different assessment tools to support the creation of SARTs, such as tailored technical assistance, case review protocol, and amending the biennial report framework.

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