Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force issues first biennial report

Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force issues first biennial report
Gov. Abbott (Source: Office of the Texas Governor)

AUSTIN - The Office of the Governor’s Sexual Assault Survivors' Task Force (SASTF) today issued its first Biennial Report to the Texas Legislature. The report includes policy recommendations for the 87th Legislative Session and summarizes activities conducted since the task force held its inaugural meeting on February 6th — including the creation of over 150 recommendations relating to the review of state policies, protocols, and best practices for the collection, preservation, tracking, analysis, and destruction of evidence in sexual assault cases. Recommendations were made to the Texas Evidence Collection Advisory Board, the Texas Office of the Attorney General, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab Service Manual Committee. In alignment with the SASTF’s mission, all recommendations seek to establish a more survivor-centered and trauma-informed approach to Texas' response to sexual violence.

“Texas continues to make great strides in the fight against sexual violence, and the 86th Legislative Session was one of the most significant in history for addressing the atrocity of sexual assault,” said Governor Abbott. “The Sexual Assault Survivors' Task Force is a crucial component of our enduring goal to raise awareness, combat this heinous crime, and secure justice for survivors. Together, we will continue to develop methods of prevention, support these courageous survivors, and ensure a brighter future for all Texans.”

Created by the unanimous passage of House Bill 1590 during the 86th Legislative Session, the SASTF is housed in the Office of the Governor’s Public Safety Office and seeks to establish a survivor-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative and coordinated response to sexual violence experienced by adults and children in Texas. The work of the SASTF is divided into five focus areas: forensic exams and evidence kits, policies and best practices for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of sexual assault; training and resources for law enforcement, prosecutors and judges; improvements to the collection and reporting of data related to sexual assault; and a statewide inventory of resources for survivors.

Pursuant to HB 1590, the SASTF’s report also includes a, “survey of the resources provided to survivors by nonprofit organizations, health care facilities, institutes of higher education, sexual assault response teams, and other governmental entities in each region of the state.” The Office of the Governor contracted with the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA) to conduct this comprehensive, statewide sexual assault survivors' resource inventory. Thanks to the efforts of IDVSA and the SASTF, this research will help the state better serve survivors of sexual assault crimes and will provide greater understanding of the landscape of resources, service provision gaps, and unmet needs for survivors and their families.

The report includes 11 policy recommendations for the 87th Legislative Session:

  • Remove law enforcement’s ability to decline forensic medical examinations for sexual assaults reported within 120 hours  and clarify language pertaining to law enforcement’s ability to decline forensic medical examinations outside of 120 hours, specifically the phrase “as considered appropriate”;
  • Require law enforcement to complete the Office of the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Request for Sexual Assault Exam form for every sexual assault that is reported to them;
  • Expand sexual assault forensic examination training requirements for medical professionals other than Sexual Assault Nurse Examinations;
  • Clarify and enhance the definition of SAFE-Ready Facilities to include qualified programs that function outside of traditional hospital settings and that provide forensic medical exams to survivors of sexual assault;
  • Require that a forensic medical exam shall be offered to all children who report a sexual assault, including cases reported more than 120 hours post-assault;
  • Clarify that medical facilities/entities shall notify law enforcement agencies investigating sexual assaults of evidence release by entering kit identifier information into the statewide tracking system at the conclusion of the exam or within 24 hours after the conclusion of the exam;
  • Remove the word “alleged” when referencing a sexual assault or other sex offense;
  • Clarify that kits from deceased victims should be tracked;
  • Recommend a report of unsubmitted and unanalyzed sexual assault evidence kits in the possession of law enforcement agencies and accredited crime laboratories, to be titled “Statewide Electronic Tracking System Report,” be prepared annually by DPS;
  • Repeal the requirement for law enforcement to submit quarterly reports on unanalyzed sexual assault evidence kits in Track-Kit; and
  • State agencies that provide grant funding should consider Government Code 420.046 when making grant eligibility or funding recommendations for entities that collect evidence for sexual assault or other sex offenses or investigate or prosecute sexual assault or other sex offenses.

The Task Force includes the following organizations, agencies and individuals:

Office of the Governor (OOG)*

Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA)*

Children’s Advocacy Center of Texas (CACTX)*

Office of the Attorney General (OAG)

Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)

Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE)

Texas Forensic Science Commission

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)

Texas Association of Crime Laboratory Directors

Texas District and County Attorney’s Association (TDCAA)

Texas Society of Pathologists

International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) - Texas Chapter

Law Enforcement Representatives

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Representatives

Child Abuse Pediatrician

Survivor/Family Survivor Representatives

Judicial Representatives

*Steering committee

The full Task Force report may be obtained via the Office of the Governor’s website.