Since 2004, local law enforcement agencies and Cross Timbers Family Services have worked together to not only combat sexual assault, but help survivors navigate their way through often lengthy and painful court proceedings.

Erath County’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) consists of the sheriff’s office; Stephenville, Dublin and Tarleton police departments; the district attorney’s office; Paluxy River Child Advocacy Center; CPS, CASA, Texas Heath Harris Stephenville and CTFS.

The agencies handle cases - and survivors - according to SART’s protocol that was amended in 2016 and focuses on a “victim-centered” approach.

Sheriff Matt Coates said law enforcement agencies can benefit by participating in SART programs.

“I believe the greatest benefit is that we are able to communicate directly with the survivor’s other care team members to ensure that nothing is missed and that the survivor is taken care of not only from initiation of the report, to the final court disposition, but that the survivor is emotionally taken care of for as long as needed,” Coates said. “Meeting the survivor’s needs no matter what they may be is the most important aspect for me, and it would not be possible without the cooperation of every group involved which is exactly what the SART team does.”

Sexual assaults in Erath County are more common than one might expect.

According to data compiled by CTFS, there were 24 adult survivors of sexual assault and 22 child survivors of sexual assault in 2016.

“Statistically, you can find information everywhere that states the number of survivors of sexual assaults is very, very low. The numbers are actually much higher because many survivors don’t make a report,” said Jodee Lucero, president of CTFS. “There are lots of individuals out there who are not talking to anyone or getting the support services they need.”

Lucero said the SART team is also responsible for training police officers, nurses, physicians and probation officers who work with survivors.

“Last week we actually had a training,” Lucero said. “We want to make sure survivors are getting the best services possible and we are focused on educating the public so they know the county does have a response team.”