Sexual Assault Task Force Seeking More Time Amid Member Disagreements

The Sexual Assault Task Force is going to seek more time than the six month mandate originally given by Springfield City Council after members of the task force disagreed with the force’s proposed final report.

Several members, particularly #MeTooSpringfield representative Sarah Bargo, took issue at the start of the meeting to the proposed report’s contents.

“In its current form, I am particularly uncomfortable presenting or defending this report, which is quite short on substance,” Bargo said. “I believe it would be a mistake to approve it. While I do agree that the three recommendations are vital to meaningful, long-term change, I believe these recommendations alone fall woefully short of expectations, including my own.”

The controversial CNN report about the city’s destruction of rape kits was a focal point of the disagreements; Bargo and other committee member said the public and the media would be critical of their report in light of the contents of the CNN report.

Sarah Bargo of #MeTooSpringfield

“I’m not trying to minimize things because I feel what we did was good,” Bargo said. “But I don’t feel those things alone are not going to be good enough. I’m very worried about having to defend this in the media. I think we’d be very naive to think this is not going to be viewed in light of the CNN report by both the media and the public.”

She added that after sharing the report with other leaders of #MeTooSpringfield those leaders were “angry this is all we came up with in six months.”

Here is that proposed report to which Bargo and several other members objected:

SATFOriginal1

Frustration also seemed to come from the limitations on the group both from the charge given to the group by the City Council but also the legal limitations on what the City Council can actually do in regards to dealing with sexual assault issues.

“Considering the scope of the five charges by the city,” Bargo said, “this report only scratches the surface of what I and others thought the task force would accomplish. I believe that unless we deal with the situations that resulted in the creation of this task force, we are sorely failing victims yet again, and that’s a position I definitely don’t want to be in.”

Bargo said it felt to her like a larger commitment was needed and that at times “there was no political will to do it.”

Bargo also said that “accountability” was not in the report and that many items considered “best practices” by many organizations is not included in the final report, including entire reports of sub-group research such as why one-third of victims stop cooperating with officials in the middle of the judicial process.

Springfield City Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson

City Councilmember Phyllis Ferguson agreed with much of the criticism but pointed out that the report to City Council was aimed at focusing on the charge given to the task force.

“I’m going to take responsibility for the brunt of this,” Ferguson said. “Council receives a lot of information and what I like to see is boiled down to what I need to know and that’s what I expressed to Lisa [Farmer, Task Force Chair.]”

“But also, what I looked at with this report is that we were charged with five things,” Ferguson added. “We needed to address each of those five things. Council did not ask us to address anything outside of these five items.”

“Council is not going to read a 50 page report,” Councilwoman and Task Force Member Jan Fisk added. “They’ll skim it.”

Ferguson noted that many of the issues are related to state legislation and actions that need to be taken by state agencies, and that Springfield City Council can do nothing in regards to changing state law or force a state agency take action on sexual assault issues.

Criticism of the report also touched on the omission of work done by the task force; members were concerned the public would not know about the extent of the research performed by task force members on the problems surrounding sexual assault and the discovery of best practices for investigation of crimes and assistance of victims.

Task Force Chairwoman Lisa Farmer said the report was essentially a “top line” report, meaning it didn’t contain all the detail available, but that all of the task force’s work has been captured in a file several inches thick and that community members and media would have access to the file because the items were recorded in public meetings. Items included in the file were minutes from all of the task force meetings, and those minutes would cover presentations, Q&A sessions with guests like Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson, and research discovered by task force members.

Farmer also said the file is separated by tabs so the public would be able to quickly find specific information.

The members dissatisfied with the final report draft then suggested that the report be altered in a way that presented a little more of the bigger data points showing the scope of the problem and then have the data referred to by Farmer put into a secondary, in-depth report that could be used as a resource for the first report.

Suggestions included digitizing all of the supporting information and making a website available to the public to see all the work done by the Task Force, which could include information that would be beyond the original scope of the task force’s charge.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams

Bargo also stated she had issues with what she felt was conflicting positions expressed by Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams regarding outside auditing of police procedures into investigations of sexual assault cases, specifically something called the “Philadelphia model.” That “model” is a process undertaken in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania following a number of sexual assault cases that were left unsolved which brought in outside advisors to check for items such as elimination of victim blaming in investigation and reports, making sure all tests were run on rape kits and crime scene evidence, and that all witnesses were interviewed.

Bargo and other members of the committee did also make a point to say that Chief Williams and members of the Springfield police department have made significant changes and are working hard on being more victim-centered and focused on sexual assault cases.

“One thing that was missing in a lot of the media reports after the CNN story,” Bargo said, “was a lot of the changes that they had made. So I think for us to reiterate that would be helpful to them and to the community.”

As a result of the concerns raised by Bargo and multiple other members, the group decided to ask for an extension of their task force’s six-month mandate to allow for more clarification on issues such as the position of the police chief on outside auditing of their process.

The task force also was in general agreement of the direction of the final report’s rewrite, expressing more information regarding the depth of the problem and showing City Council why imminent action is necessary in combating sexual assault in the community.

The report would also lay out that the public often has a misperception that victims of sexual assault are abused women when victims are from every gender, race, and age, and that sexual abuse of children is a particular problem in southwest Missouri.

In addition, the task force wants to recommend in the final report that the City Council make legislative changes a priority when communicating with members of the state delegation.

The task force scheduled a meeting for September 11th at City Hall to continue work on the revision of the final draft and would extend an invitation to police chief Paul Williams to answer questions regarding outside auditing.