The Springfield City Council unanimously approved the creation of a Sexual Assault Task Force that will help provide insight to the council, the Springfield police and members of city staff.
Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson was a driving force behind getting council to form the task force to review the city’s current practices and find ways to enhance and progress the ways sexual assaults are handled by city agencies and staff.
“I am really excited to get this task force approved because now the city council will look at best practices around the country,” Councilwoman Ferguson told OI. “We’re doing some great things here locally but I want to make sure we have the funding that our police department needs and other organizations to get the training that they need.”
“I want to make sure this remains a high priority.”
Springfield police chief Paul Williams praised the council’s decision.
“Our best weapon against sexual assault is prevention through education and SPD is just one piece of that puzzle,” Williams said. “The task force will look at all areas of our community and make recommendations for how the City of Springfield and the community as a whole can work together and make a positive impact through this effort.”
In the past I’ve worked with each of the members on the sexual assault task force and they are women who are passionate about serving the citizens of Springfield. I certainly believe that we will see a lot of positive changes come out of this.”
The task force will consist of two Council members and several community leaders who have been on the front lines of battling sexual assault in our community.
The task force’s charge from the city:
- Review current City practices regarding sexual assault;
- Research and review identified best practices for the prevention, reporting, and investigation of sexual assaults throughout the United States;
- Review and recommend specialized training and education opportunities that are available to first responders and service providers throughout the community, so they have necessary and up-to-date skills to most successfully and effectively work with victims of sexual assault;
- Consider and make recommendations regarding an education campaign with the goal of teaching primary, secondary, and tertiary safety and prevention management to reduce sexual assault within the community;
- Recommend an ongoing approach to measure the progress of implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations.
Lisa Farmer of Harmony House will the Chair of the task force with Councilwoman Ferguson as the Vice Chair. Farmer told OI what she sees as the task ahead of them.
“The newly appointed sexual assault task force will be looking at several aspects of our community’s response to sexual assault, including prevention education and community awareness,” Farmer told OI. “Our approach will be to gather information on best practices and evidence-based initiatives that are working well in other communities and then determine what will be most beneficial and feasible to implement in Springfield. The task force has been given six months to complete this important work and we look forward to presenting our findings and recommendations to City Council in August.”
Ferguson specifically cited to OI the need for the item in the fourth charge to the commission; education programs for Springfield area residents.
“There is some education that needs to happen regarding what is consent and what isn’t consent,” Ferguson said. “The education component will allow us to address these things. We have a lot of university students here and we need to take care of and protect them.”
The other members of the task force are:
Linda Saturno of the Child Advocacy Center
Brandi Bartel of the Victim Center
Sharon Alexander of Legal Services of Southern Missouri (and associate of the Family Justice Center)
Dee Ogilvy, National Organization of Women Southwest Missouri Chapter
Sarah Bargo, Me Too Springfield
Janice Thompson Gehrke, community activist & advocate
Task Force member Sarah Bargo called the appointment an “honor” and talked about the importance of the Task Force to the community.
“The establishment of this task force is a significant step toward reestablishing public trust,” Sarah Bargo told OI. “I am thrilled that our city’s leadership unanimously approved this resolution and understands the long-term benefits that will not only impact survivors, but our community as a whole. They don’t just want Springfield to be better, they want Springfield to be the gold standard in the nation for how sexual assault victims are served. to be able to influence that process from a survivor’s perspective is absolutely an honor.”
Ferguson told OI that even with all the things that the task force will do, there’s one key factor that will drive everything they do.
“Helping the victims,” Ferguson said. “It’s not about social media, it’s not about politics. Anyone who has a family member or friend who has had a sex assault crime committed against them…is concerned and that’s just about this entire community as far as I can tell.”
Bargo agreed with Ferguson that survivors are a priority.
“In my view, the primary goal would be to help create a system in which sexual assault survivors can get swifter justice,” Bargo said. “I see the bulk of that work centering around ways to make survivors feel more comfortable coming forward to law-enforcement. I don’t think this is a matter of better informing the public about the problem of sexual assault— it should be about making sure the public knows (and experiences) that sexual assault cases are handled with just as much care and seriousness as any other crime.”
And while the task force is entirely made up of women and 91% of reported sex crimes are against women, Councilwoman Ferguson made it clear that the task force will be also focused on helping men who are victims of sexual assault.
“When we look at statistics that say 91 percent of victims are women I think that’s because adult men don’t talk what happened to them when they were little boys,” Ferguson said. “It’s just not quite as acceptable in our society to talk that young men, or really men at any age, have been sexually assaulted. For us in Springfield, Missouri, I would like to see that those statistics change somewhat because [male survivors of sexual assault] will not be shy or ashamed to come forward and talk about what happened to them and try to seek justice.”