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TN lawmaker introduces bill to require law enforcement to create response teams for sexual assault cases

The bill requires teams to have members with expertise in fields related to sexual assault response such as victim advocacy or mental health services.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The McNabb Center said sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes and estimated only around 31% of all sexual assaults are reported to the police.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, emergency room visits for sexual assaults also saw a steep increase between 2006 and 2019. They said there was a 1,533% increase in sexual assault emergency department visits, far outpacing the growth of law enforcement reporting.

The report shows in 2006, there were about 3,607 reported visits to the emergency room involving sexual assault cases. By 2019, they said that number exploded to about 55,296 visits. The study also said that there was an 8.3% decrease in admission rates for sexual assault.

About four years ago, a woman moved out of her childhood home and into her college dorm room. WBIR referred to her as Jane Doe, for her safety.

"It's so new, and newfound freedom, so I think I was really enjoying that lifestyle," she said. 

She said she went out with her friends one night when she said she met a man who tried to get her to drink. She said she drank what the man gave her and later followed her into a bathroom where she was sexually assaulted.

She said she had to navigate the legal process alone afterward.

"Individuals who go through that and experience that really need someone to be there to support them and comfort them, and really help them navigate that process," said Catherine Oaks, with the McNabb Center. "It's really critical to provide this resource, not only for the emotional support but also when you think about the criminal justice process."

The center serves survivors across 13 counties. A lawmaker from Knoxville proposed a bill that's aimed at reducing their burden.

Senator Becky Massey (R - Knoxville) introduced SB 0022. It would require law enforcement agencies to create an adult sexual assault team meant to help respond to cases. The bill would require teams to have members with expertise related to sexual assault response.

That expertise could include victim advocacy, law enforcement, criminal prosecution or healthcare services. The teams would need to be formed by Jan. 1, 2024. Discussions between the team and the survivor would be considered confidential.

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