Sexual Assault Task Force Presents Report to Springfield City Council

The Springfield Sexual Assault Task Force has presented their long-awaited report to Springfield City Council about the problem of sexual assault in the community and ways the Springfield city government can work to combat the problem.

The Task Force, made up of six advocates for sexual assault survivors in the community along with two City Council members, gave Council an overview of the depth of the problem of sexual assault throughout the region.

The Task Force informed Council that in 2013, the first year of a new definition of rape by the FBI, Springfield reported 281 sexual assaults, and hit a high of 352 in 2017. Despite a slight drop in 2018, Springfield still had 336 reported sexual assaults that year.

The Force also outlined a number of facets to the problem in the community: sexual assault is an under-reported crime, the majority of cases reported are not prosecuted (only 6% of reported cases in Springfield in 2018 resulted in charges), and a series of contributing factors such as shame, embarrassment, victim-blaming or fatigue from the length of time to prosecute a case.

After laying out the Task Force’s processes, chairwoman Lisa Farmer informed Council that the report contained five significant recommendations for Council.

The first recommendation was to “appoint a qualified team to focus on a gaps analysis of sexual assault data collected within the private and public sectors and to conduct a community survey on attitudes and norms about sexual assault/sexual violence in Springfield.”

The task force says while there is good local data available, the data needs to be analyzed from a systems perspective. They also believe the community needs to better comprehend the scope of the problem of sexual assault and sexual violence so they can be better involved in a response.

Second, based on the data analysis, launch a “community education and awareness campaign to improve Springfield-area social norms regarding sexual violence.” The Task Force was charged to make recommendations for both first responders and the general public; the Force found that there are ample programs to inform first responders.

However, the Task Force members agreed that educational programs for the general public, especially marginalized parts of the community, were not abundant and that they are essential in increasing percentages of victims reporting crimes against them. The Task Force recommended the City’s Public Information Office establish a group to shape the campaign and then guide and change the program as new data becomes available. The educational programs should make sure to target marginalized groups and include “best practice” awareness programs.

The Task Force’s third recommendation was to “create a Springfield/Greene County integrated sexual violence court and implement ongoing education opportunities about victims and trauma-centered practices.”

The Task Force reiterated the importance of law enforcement, prosecutors, and the court system working together with victim service organizations to improve outcomes for victims.

The sexual violence court would have staff that are training in dealing with the victims of sexual assault and violence, and can streamline the process. Those working in the court can make sure victims understand their rights and explain how to ensure their rights are protected through the legal process.

The fourth recommendation is that the city “continue to explore and pursue potential funding sources so that additional victim advocates can be imbedded within the Springfield Police Department to ensure that trauma-informed procedures are utilized in all work with victims and that victim rights are upheld throughout a trauma-informed, victim centered investigative process.”

The Task Force noted several times that the Springfield Police Department has improved their handling of sexual assault and sexual violence cases, but also notes that the caseload for officers who are handling those cases is very large. The Force noted that victim advocates embedded with police departments can be a valuable partner to help manage caseloads and provide detectives with vital information.

“Research has shown that victims who worked with advocates were more likely to have police
reports taken and were less likely to have negative experiences with police officer than those who
did not work with advocates,” the Police Executive Research Forum stated as quoted by the Task Force.

The Task Force noted the department will have two victim advocates embedded in the SPD because of a grant, but that more funding is needed to keep an advocate on hand 24/7.

The fifth and final recommendation is that the City Council include sexual assault initiatives as part of their annual legislative priorities for the members of the state legislature. One of the issues that frustrated the members of the Task Force is that a number of potential corrective measures to fight sexual assault are not available to local officials and must be done at a state level.

The Task Force’s final conclusions noted that despite a large list of recommendations and suggestions, they are just covering a part of the overall issue. They noted that in over 85% of sexual assault cases the assailant is familiar with the victim; the problem of domestic abuse is a major factor in the battle against sexual violence.

The Task Force told Council that a study into the issue of domestic violence in the community should be considered to help reduce the amount of sexual assaults.

Task Force Member Janice Thompson Gehrke told OI that Mayor Ken McClure’s comment that this was the “end of the beginning” in dealing with the issue “defined the entire process well.”

“We all wish that we could have established some “AH HA!” fix that would have changed the entire system for the better and given the victims the justice they deserve to have,” Gehrke told OI. “When we went looking for answers to one problem we would find ten other questions to ask and a mountain of problems that need to be addressed. This was one step, there are many more that we have to take and during this process really positive steps have been made. We have citizens here in Springfield that care, that are going to continue to show up and fight for victims even if we only gain a small forward step.”

“None of this is simple to understand, there are thousands of working parts and all need a tweak,” Gehrke continued. “Hopefully our small step, while not that master fix we all wanted to find, will hopefully give a little hope to those who are struggling. We have not forgotten why we are here, we have not given up and we are not accepting the status quo. More work will be done and while the task force itself may be done the individuals who participated are not.”



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