In 2020, Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation into law that is designed to strengthen the rights and protections provided to Missouri’s sexual assault victims. Senate Bill 569, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, also created the Missouri Rights of Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force.

The bipartisan panel is responsible for several things, including finding ways to improve services for survivors and to better respond to these cases; decide if there is a greater funding need; determine whether additional rape crisis center workers and volunteers are necessary; and collect feedback from stakeholders, practitioners, law enforcement, victim services, and healthcare communities.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur

Last week, members held the first of four scheduled online listening sessions. The meeting focused on funding needs.

Jennifer Carter Dochler, with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says the state needs to boost the number of rape crisis center workers and advocates.

“Volunteers have been heavily relied on to provide these 24/7 services,” she says. “Volunteer numbers are down because of COVID-19. We don’t see that changing for a while. There’s additional pressure on staff to make sure that when somebody is in need at 2 a.m. in the morning, that there is an advocate present.”

In 2020, nearly 15,000 victims asked a Missouri rape crisis center for help. About 8,000 of those victims were turned away due to lack of funding.

Carter Dochler calls state funding for victim services “woefully inadequate” and wants Missouri to provide at least a $2 million increase.

The 13-member task force includes State Senators Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, and Holly Rehder, R-Scott City.

Rehder, a former state Representative, has her own #MeToo story. She shared her heartbreaking story after a high-profile sex scandal involving film producer Harvey Weinstein.

“I understand the desire to want to have this in the shadows, as a survivor of it. But it is so incredibly important that we do shine a light on this – that we do work to make the process more efficient and to work for those who have been abused, and to put them through the least amount of pain possible because the process does add to their pain. It adds to the trauma, but it’s so necessary to keep it from occurring again,” says Rehder.

State Sen. Holly Rehder (R-Scott City) speaks on the Missouri Senate floor in Jefferson City on March 9, 2021 (file photo courtesy of Harrison Sweazea at Senate Communications)

She talks about what she hopes to learn from the public.

“It’s so important for us to find where the gaps are, where are we failing to hear people’s stories. You know, it’s different all across the state and the training is different all across the state. And certainly, we learned from members on the task force, some have resources, and some don’t,” she says.

Schupp successfully added language to the bipartisan bill that deals with the creation of a statewide telehealth network for forensic examinations of victims. The intent is to provide access to sexual assault nurse examiners or other similarly trained appropriate medical providers – to ensure exams are available.

Schupp says learning from the experts and the public is critical to make the process better for victims.

“When I don’t know the entire process, until I hear from the experts as we did today, I don’t realize where those funding gaps are. Not only are they geographic and across the state, but they are within certain kinds of areas, and certain departments, and certain victim services provided,” says Schupp.

They encourage the public to fill out a survey and/or participate in the next listening sessions. Click here to take you to the survey and for future listening session information.

“This task force, we as members want to learn, we want to do what we can do to get this right,” says Schupp. “But there’s nothing like hearing from people who have been personally affected or who know of someone who has been and have a story to tell us that paints a picture for us and for our colleagues who may need to get involved.”

The survey must be filled out by September 30. The next online session is September 14.

Rehder says she wants to hear from both women and men.

“When I wrote my #MeToo story years ago, the most people who reached out to me were men,” she says. “A lot of times we default to she. I know that men experience to this and are much less likely to tell – much less likely to press charges for a myriad of reasons. To have your help with these surveys is of the highest importance.”

Schupp points out that she and Rehder are in opposite political parties.

We know the importance of this to the people of the state of Missouri. We work together on other things, too. I want people to understand that we both care about the people of Missouri and I don’t think this is partisan in any way. I think that this is something we and our colleagues feel strongly about,” says Schupp. “That’s why Senate Bill 569 was passed in 2020. We want to go ahead and see if through so people get what they need.”

SB 569 directed the task force to submit a report on its finding to the Governor and General Assembly by Dec. 31, 2021.

To hear the interview with Senators Schupp and Rehder, click below.

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