A proposal to bring the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center into the county will go before a County Commission meeting later today.
"The city had placed it in a catch-all division with the animal shelter and weights and measures," said Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women's Council, at a meeting of concerned groups and citizens last night. "At the county, it would be under community services with all the other crime-victim services."
Once known as the rape crisis center, MSARC has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement.
In March of last year, when the center's former on-site director left, there were more than 10 part-time nurses. By spring of this year, the center still didn't have a permanent director, it was down to four nurses, and two teenagers were turned away because there was no one on duty to administer an exam.
In response to the community's outcry over alleged mismanagement, city mayor Willie Herenton has moved the center from under Public Services and Neighborhoods to the city attorney's office.
But some say that's not enough.
"Because of this city hall's lack of attention to those services, the time is right for the county to acquire it," Clubb said, pointed out that other crime victim services, as well as the health department, and the medical examiner's office, are located under the county's purview.
The City Council would also consider a mirror resolution, though it seems the administration would have to be the one to let the center go. If the administration fought the change, there is talk the City Council could refuse to fund the center out of the city budget, thus forcing the mayor's hand.
"I think a lot of people have reached the 'fix it' point but no one's telling them how to fix it," said Brad Watkins, organizing coordinator for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.
The city has also entered into a partnership with Le Bonheur in which the hospital will administer exams to sexual assault victims who are minors.
Under the national model, however, the best way to provide victim services for this type of crime is to have them all together. And while everyone I've spoken to is grateful for Le Bonheur's help, there are concerns about their nurses being trained to do sexual assault examinations.
There are also concerns about whether rape victims would be mingling with the rest of Le Bonheur's population. Under the MSARC model, a police officer would bring the victim to the center. The exam, and the resulting paperwork, can take up to four hours, and the officer would stay at the center until it was over.
But it's unclear if at Le Bonheur a victim would have to wait in a crowded waiting room to be triaged.
In order to get more council and county commission support on the topic, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center is organizing an aggressive phone campaign slated for next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Volunteers interested in helping should contact Mid-South Peace and Justice.