In response to a district attorney press conference, the Shelby County Commission this week deferred a proposal to transfer the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center from city to county government.
Once known as the rape crisis center, MSARC has been plagued in recent months by allegations of mismanagement. In March of last year, when the center's manager left, the staff included more than 10 part-time nurses to conduct examinations on victims of alleged sexual assault. By spring of this year, the center was down to four nurses, and two teenaged victims were turned away because there was no one on duty to administer an exam.
After a public outcry, the city moved MSARC from its Public Services and Neighborhoods division to the city attorney's office. The city also hired a new manager for the center, but some community groups would like to see MSARC, which serves victims from the tri-state area, moved to county government.
"The city had placed it in a catchall division with the animal shelter and weights and measures," Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women's Council, said at a meeting last week. "At the county, it would be under community services with other crime-victim services."
County government also administers the local health department and the medical examiner's office.
"Because of city hall's lack of attention to those services, the time is right for the county to acquire [MSARC]," Clubb said.
In an effort to make sure services are provided to children, District Attorney Bill Gibbons announced this week that a Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center clinic will open inside the Memphis Child Advocacy Center to perform forensic medical examinations on children who are alleged victims of sexual abuse.
MSARC has been called a national model, and some concerned citizens say that an integral part of that model was having one site for victims of sexual assault, regardless of age.
Though the deferred commission resolution calls for the City Council to consider a mirror resolution, the authority to transfer MSARC to the county ultimately rests with Mayor Willie Herenton.
In a statement to the City Council's executive committee this week, Herenton said MSARC should not be transferred to the county.
"The client population served by MSARC will be better served by maintaining MSARC as an entity of the city," he said. "That's the decision I have made and that's a firm decision."