County leaders look to improve services for sexual assault victims

Austin
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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Public Safety Commission is taking a closer look at how sexual assault cases are handled in the city and throughout the county after a recent audit of the Austin Police Department found that police had mishandled a third of the cases in 2017. 

On Monday, commissioners will meet with various city and county leaders to discuss the final analysis of the recent Austin Police Department’s Texas Department of Public Safety’s audit and how to improve services for sexual assault victims. 

“I think this is an opportunity for us take the moment of accountability and try to bring back some of the parts of the community that work on sexual assault that had been kind of broken apart,” Commissioner Rebecca Bernhardt said. “It’s an opportunity for the SARRT, which is the historical entity that has worked really hard on changing and improving the system of sexual assault response, [to be brought] back to the center of the work.”

They plan to discuss the services available for sexual assault victims and how they can improve. Commissioners will hear from the Travis County Justice Planning Department and Travis County Health & Human Services Department to the Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team or SARRT and the Inter-agency Sexual Assault Team or ISAT which was launched by District Attorney Margaret Moore in the fall of 2017.

“There is a need to bring these two [SARRT and ISAT] organizations back together and to recognize that the SARRT really is the heart of Austin/Travis county’s response to sexual assault and all the community organizations that have really worked really hard on sexual assault all these years need to be brought to the table,” Bernhardt said. 

Following the DPS audit last month, APD said all its officers, investigators and detectives would go through retraining. However, public safety commissioners said last month they didn’t feel the retraining alone would be enough to fix ongoing issues with how rape cases are handled.

Bernhardt said she hopes they can figure out how to best tackle sexual assault cases overall by bringing in city and county officials into the conversation while keeping in mind how much this means to victims. 

“There are a lot of people working hard to do the right thing here, that we understand that the confidence survivors have in community organizations and advocates is well placed and we are working very hard to make Austin and Travis County’s response to sexual assault the best that it can be,” she said. 

Just last week, Austin City Council approved a resolution that directs the city manager to hire a third-party to review how reported sexual assaults are investigated and processed, including why a number of reported cases do not proceed to prosecution within the criminal justice system. 

This evaluation will go back seven years.  

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