Walking into Cranberries in Johnson City, Tennessee, there is a certain feeling that surrounds the burgundy walls filled with local artwork and photography. Ruth Taylor Reed and her husband, David Reed, own this quaint little restaurant that showcases great food and good vibes, but what else is going on behind the rustic brick walls?
Ruth Taylor Reed was first introduced to the feminist community a long time ago, but since then she has been working diligently to bring the community even closer together.
By creating a Task Force for the Johnson City Police Department, to help not only implement policies but to make sure they are carried out, she has made great strides in the local area to make sure rape kits are being tested, there is no victim blaming as well as a series of other issues.
Working with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Sen. Rusty Crowe – R-Tenn., and numerous other women that believe in similar causes. She has started to see progress in her work effort. Not only by having the 94 untested rape kits dwindle down to approximately 20 remaining, but also to train SANE nurses as well as trying to implement new Sex Ed. policies in the classrooms in Washington County.
Reed sits back in her chair a little bit, and starts talking about the Task Force she put together in November of 2014. “The task force is a result from a meeting in November 2014 when I went to the police chief and asked ‘why are there untested rape kits sitting on the shelf?’ And from there on Chief was very gracious, and they let me know that there was no written policy in this area of the state to test rape kits,” she said with a shocked look on her face.
So apparently there is no policy to hold people to doing there jobs in Johnson City, Tennessee. This was only half the battle for Reed. “I thought it was going to be really, really simple,“ she states. “I thought it was going to be a real ‘warm and fuzzy’, it would just be our chance to score one for women, and he [Police Chief] could be the hero in the community but because there is no policy established, nothing can be enforced.”
Since the first meeting in 2014, they have been meeting once a month since then, working on how to improve the amount of rape kits tested. When Ruth Taylor Reed started the Task Force, they had over 94 rape kits untested, sitting in evidence. As of February 2016 there are approximately 20 that have still not been tested.
“We’ve made progress! The Tennessee General Assembly has made progress as well on addressing several initiatives to help make that happen,” Reed says discussing the progress that they have made in the Task Force.
The next meeting in March 2016 will be addressing the TBI’s response that it is not economically feasible to have a forensic lab in this area. When there are still policies and rape kits that have been sitting in the evidence room for over a year, to the TBI it is more or less a budget problem.
Women Matter, the organization that Ruth Taylor Reed started, has hopped on board the Task Force. Having members such as Phyllis Thompson the director of the Women Studies at East Tennessee State University, and Mickii Carter, a former mayor of Johnson City.
These two individuals, Thompson and Carter, are crucial to having policies implemented. This is not because of their will to fight for the cause, but also the extensive relations they have in the local area. Without them, the Task Force would be facing much greater obstacles.
In addition to being a part of the Task Force, Thompson and Carter are also active members of Women Matter. Most meetings have special guests such as Provide, which is an education and resource center for women facing unintended pregnancies based out of Memphis. Other organizations that have spoken and asked for a helping hand with Women Matter are Healthy and Free Tennessee, CEASE (The Center to End All Sexual Exploitation) and the Crisis Center in Bristol, Virginia.
Rusty Crowe, a senator from the tri-cities area, has made the decision to be a part of Reed’s Task Force. Getting new policies implemented and having rape kits tested, seems to be something Sen. Crowe finds necessary.
According to Reed, since Sen. Crowe has become a part of the Task Force, optimism among the group has excelled. “Especially since Rusty Crowe is helping! I am hoping there is only good news to come,” Reed says. She also stated that he made the pitch for the Task Force with creating a policy that can be enforced when it comes to rape kits.
Training SANE nurses is another component to the Task Force that Reed has created. Reed says she has been working on this project a while, and recently came into contact with a PhD student at the college of nursing, here in Johnson City.
Reed says she is “unfamiliar with medical lingo” and wanted him to hop on the project for all of the people and resources that he can contribute to help get this special medical training.
“This is what needs to happen…we get busy being annoyed with each other because we do not think the same way, we don’t do things the same way, we have different priorities. But in the end, those are not the factors that effectively change the earth,” Ruth says when discussing the different people she has selected to take on these sets of obstacles.
The idea of Women Matter and the Task Force that Reed has created is to help unify women for a cause. Without people willing to make an effort for change, there will be none. Reed is a wonderful example of one woman making a huge impact in her community, but would be unable to do it without the support of others.
Author: Brenn Dowdy
Brenn Dowdy is a student at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. She studies journalism and women studies and finds interest in queer literature, poetry, sexuality and gender, and feminist theory. Brenn has done community service work with Planned Parenthood, The Feminist Majority Foundation, Montana Indian Ministries, The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee and has written for Your Tango, The News Hub, Latina Lista, El Nuevo Tennessean as well as her campus newspaper as an opinion columnist.