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Missouri legislators, law enforcement, experts begin to address needs of sexual assault victims through new task force

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A new task force made up of legislators, law enforcement officials, experts, and more has begun work to address the needs of sexual assault survivors in Missouri. 

The new task force, created by last year’s SB 569, has scheduled four hearings in August and September to address standard practices, survivor privacy, funding, and evidence collection. It will collect information on arrests, prosecution rates, access to victim services, and more. 

Sen. Jill Schupp

The information gathered during these public hearings will be used in a final report “to inform development of future best practices or clinical guidelines regarding the care and treatment of survivors.” 

“Although Missouri has made great improvements in its response to sexual assault over the last few years with the AGO developing SAFETrack, the electronic evidence tracking system, and testing hundreds of backlogged kits, this task force is an opportunity to identify remaining areas of improvement,” said Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director for the Missouri Coalition Against
Domestic and Sexual Violence.

As challenging as discussing sexual assault can be, it is often more challenging to focus attention on the needs and gaps to help adult survivors of sexual assault,” she added. “The conversation often quickly changes to trafficking or child abuse; this task force is our opportunity to not minimize the experience of adult sexual assault survivors or 14-17 year-olds who receive the adult sexual assault forensic exam. Every victim of sexual assault deserves a consistent and compassionate response across the state of Missouri.”

Part of the task force’s charge is looking at the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights” included in SB 569. That provision contained certain protections for victims, but its constitutionality has been challenged in court for potentially violating free speech and fair trial rights. 

Sen. Jill Schupp, a member of the task force, said the group will look at potential legislative changes to the Survivors’ Bill of Rights to make sure it includes protections for victims as well as is legally sound. 

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we have something reasonable and fair in place, but we want survivors to know what their expectations can and should be when they go in this very difficult situation to get treatment and to get a forensic examination done,” Schupp told The Missouri Times. “We’re trying to get a feel of what that should look like, how we can be really sensitive to the situation these survivors are in, and collect the evidence so we can hold the perpetrators accountable for these crimes.” 

“My hope is that we can come up with something that makes sense, that will not be challenged in court, and that provides survivors with the information they need as they go through this process,” she added. 

The task force is soliciting feedback from survivors and other stakeholders and has four public hearings scheduled: Aug. 25 on standard practices, Sept. 14 on survivor privacy, Sept. 22 on funding, and Sept. 28 on evidence collection. All four hearings will be held virtually through WebEx. 

Sen. Holly Rehder, Rep. David Evans, and Rep. Yolanda Young make up the bipartisan legislators on the task force. 

Other members include Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Colonel Eric Olson, MSHP Crime Lab Deputy Director Stacey Bolinger, Missouri Office of Prosecution Services Special Victims Resource Prosecutor Catherine Vannier, Sarah Ehrhard Reid of the Department of Health and Senior Services, Amy Schwartz of the Missouri Hospital Association, Metropolitan Organization to County Sexual Assault President Julie Donelon, YWCA St. Joseph CEO Tammy Killin, St. Joseph Police Sgt. Jason Strong, and Missouri Kids First Interim Executive Director Jessica Seitz. 

The survey closes on Sept. 30. The Department of Public Safety is providing administrative support for the task force.