About 15% of the investigated sexual assault crimes in Tarrant County were filed as felonies with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, according to the Tarrant County Sexual Assault Response Team’s first biennial report.

A law passed in 2021 that requires a county’s sexual assault response team to produce a report every odd-numbered year. The 2023 report is the start of this series of biennial reporting and serves to summarize the state of sexual assault in the county. The Tarrant County SART findings were shared with the Tarrant County Commissioners Court at the Dec. 5 meeting.

“My belief would be that looking at these numbers will help us ... to convince more agencies to provide more resources and to do more hard work in this area,” said Kim D'Avignon, the chief prosecutor on the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office’s adult sexual response team, to commissioners.

The details

The report, which can be viewed online in the Commissioner's Court agenda on the Tarrant County website, provided the numbers of the adult sexual assault crimes from Oct. 1, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2023. It found that across Tarrant County, there were 1,758 reports of adult sex crimes—where the victim is 17 years of age or older—received by police departments in the county’s jurisdiction.

Of those 1,758 reports, 1,717 were investigated, the report states. The cases that were not investigated were due to the victim not wanting to proceed with the investigation, according to law enforcement agencies.
  • Of the 1,717 cases that were investigated, 253 were filed as felonies with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.
  • An additional 96 cases were also filed as misdemeanor indecent assaults, the report states.
“One of the biggest problems when you talk about getting sexual assault [crimes] across the finish line to be filed at the DA's office is traditionally victims have really struggled with reporting this crime,” D'Avignon said. “Only about 1 in 10 gets reported to law enforcement.”

D'Avignon said the county is working to have officers be more trauma-informed in order to address this issue. The first encounter a victim has with law enforcement is the primary determination for whether the victim will continue through an investigation and prosecution, she said.

“The number one thing we can do is to continue to teach and be very vigilant in our county that we are a trauma-informed county,” D'Avignon said, “And to insist that when a person makes a report, they are treated with the very best informed law enforcement agencies to deal with that moment of trauma that this person is dealing with.”

The approach

The report states that the Tarrant County SART meets once a quarter to collaborate with different agencies on how to better serve survivors. It also issues a newsletter to participants that highlights local concerns and information about sexual assault.

When the law passed in 2021 requiring the report, the team also formed a core group to lead executive sessions and to provide guidance. Agencies listed in the report with core group members are:
  • John Peter Smith Hospital
  • The Women’s Center
  • Fort Worth Police Department
  • Arlington Police Department
  • Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office
  • Tarrant County Mental Health Mental Resources
  • Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
D'Avignon noted that the SART only deals with adult sexual assault cases. Child sexual assault crimes are a different department.

The backstory

In 2021, the Texas Legislature approved Senate Bill 476, mandating that every county in Texas establish a SART. The initiative aims to create a statewide framework encompassing resources, awareness, connectivity and coordination to address adult sex crimes at the community level, according to the Texas Association of Regional Councils.

Tarrant County’s SART has been in existence since the 1980s, the report states.

What’s next?

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Sexual Assault Investigations will require new trainings in 2024, D'Avignon said. Tarrant County’s SART has already begun plans to teach this training locally to every police department once the commission has established the curriculum, so that county-level agencies are presenting the training instead of state agencies, she said.

“I'm not here to tell you that the state of sexual assault is perfect in Tarrant County,” D'Avignon said. “I'm here to tell you that there are some very motivated people who are trying to do better.”