New TN Senate bill would make task force for sexual assault victims

Senate bill 0022 and House bill 0415 would enact the “Sexual Assault Response Act.”
New Senate bill making task force for sexual assault victims
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 6:31 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee lawmakers hope to combat sexual assault with a new bill.

Introduced in bills SB0022 and HB0415, each local law enforcement agency would be required to assemble an adult sexual assault response team by Jan. 1, 2024. The SART team would be responsible for assisting assault victims that occur within that agency’s jurisdiction and will require each team member to be properly trained on how to deal with these types of trauma cases.

Lorraine McGuire, the Vice President of Community Relations at the Sexual Assault Center for Tennessee, said this bill is a necessary step in the right direction for Tennessee.

“So one of the things we’re passionate about is our relationship with the police department because instead of asking ‘What were you wearing?’ as the first question or ‘Where were you?” which is a very victim-blaming approach to this they can ask different questions and have ways to start having a better reputation on how they handle victims so more victims come forward,” said McGuire.

The team must include members with expertise in a variety of disciplines relevant to sexual assault response, including, but not limited to:

  1. Victim advocacy;
  2. Law enforcement;
  3. Criminal prosecution;
  4. Healthcare services; and
  5. Mental health services.

McGuire testified at the Tennessee General Assembly meeting on March 14. She has been working with state officials on modeling the program to be similar to her Sexual Assault Center and the work they do for victims.

She said not many people may know that they cannot just go to any hospital or medical center to get a rape kit done and the process can be even more traumatic for victims.

“I think if people really realized what a victim has to go through that continued trauma and telling their story over and over again, they would probably have more compassion, and that’s exactly what the SART would do. It would create an environment in a city for more compassion for victims,” said McGuire.

The team would be trained on how to help a victim every step of the way during the process.

“So, I hope that I’m able to convey a little bit about trauma and why trauma-informed care is not only good for the victim but it’s good for the city and the system in order to move towards the ultimate goal which is prosecution,” said McGuire.

The budget set for the bill is $20 million to be dispersed throughout the state. On Tuesday, lawmakers voted to defer the bill to March 21.