AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The state’s new sexual assault survivors’ task force convened Thursday for its inaugural meeting aimed at strengthening services across Texas.
“What we’re here to do is to get a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in regards to sexual assault,” said Rose Luna, chief executive officer of Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a non-profit committed to ending sexual violence in Texas.
“We’re going to look at what’s happening in regards to advocacy, what’s happening in regards to Criminal Justice System, what’s happening in regards to medical attention, and everything in between,” said Luna, a member of the task force.
“We’ve got great folks doing great work all across the state,” Luna said. “What we’re going to do is bring together the right people, ask the courageous tough questions and then also figure out how can we align this in a way that makes sense across the state that’s more efficient.”
The task force convened with five major objectives:
- building transparency relating to sexual assault prevention and prosecution of offenders
- providing accurate information in a centralized format
- improving training for professionals
- recommending actionable policy guidelines for state leaders to consider
- and promoting a change in culture that aims to debunk myths surrounding sexual assault
“One of the things that we have talked about is making sure that we are acknowledging the sensitivity of some of the things that we are discussing. That we’re acknowledging that everybody in the room is bringing a different perspective and different experience, certainly from their life as a person — but also holding the space for the actual objective that the task force needs to accomplish,” England said.
England said a sexual assault survivor spoke to the panel as part of the first meeting on Thursday.
“This session was one of the most prolific sessions we’ve ever had when it comes to addressing sexual assault and human trafficking,” Abbott said at the bill signing ceremony. “This will ensure that Texas is both efficiently and effectively taking action to address the heinous crime of sexual assault.”
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who authored the bill in the Texas House, said the task force is meant to be survivor-focused.
“We have a very low rate of reporting sexual assault and part of the reason for that is a lack of a sense of trust that the system is going to be there for them,” Howard said in June.
“There are some infrastructure issues that are impacting the ability of the justice system to work,” Howard said after the bill was signed. “We need more training throughout that whole timeline to make sure that those who are interacting with survivors have the skills they need to work with those folks.”
The meeting was closed to the public and the press.
The task force will meet quarterly with working group sessions in between. HB 1590 authorized the task force for four years. The team will compile a series of reports to deliver to the governor and other legislators, the first of which is due Nov. 1.
According to a spokesperson from Abbott’s office, the task force is made up of representatives from the following agencies and organizations:
- Office of the Governor
- Texas Association Against Sexual Assault
- Children’s Advocacy Center of Texas
- Office of the Attorney General
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission
- Texas Commission on Law Enforcement
- Texas Forensic Science Commission
- Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Crime Lab
- Texas Association of Crime Laboratory Directors
- Texas District and County Attorney’s Association
- Texas Society of Pathologists
- International Association of Forensic Nurses Texas Chapter
- Plano Police Department
- North Richland Hills Police Department
- Texas DPS Education, Training, and Research
- Texas A&M College of Nursing
- Austin’s SAFE Alliance