The Role of Community-based Sexual Assault Response Teams

ACASA_logo 2015The Role of Community-based Sexual Assault Response Teams

For years communities across the United States have struggled with how to improve their response to sexual assault. From the reporting officer to the local hospital to the local prosecutor, protocol varies from region to region. Problems are often amplified in rural and remote areas where resources are not typically at hand.

Among the most popular approach to aide this issue is to implement a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). A SART, as defined by National Sexual Violence Resource Center, is “a collection of professional service providers and officials that respond essentially as a group, and in a timely fashion, to the various needs of rape victims.”

The primary activity of a SART is to coordinate an immediate response across the community. This response typically includes:
• initial contact with a victim(s);
• medical evaluation and care;
• documentation and collection of forensic and crime scene evidence;
• a “go to” for prosecution and legal support;
• resources for crisis counseling, information and referrals for victims, and advocacy to ensure that they receive assistance; and
• support and information for victim’s families and friends.

At a minimum, core team members on a SART should include professionals from the fields of law enforcement, victim advocacy/victim services, a prosecutor or legal affiliate, and
health care. The roles of each team member vary, but the goal remains the same – to ensure each assault case is addressed thoroughly by means of team and community care.

SARTs may also coordinate with other local agencies that provide services and resources. These additional agencies can be used as needed in individual cases, and may help promote and build the SART. Such agencies might include domestic violence programs, crime victim compensation boards, schools, medical clinics, the public health department, probation and parole offices, mental health agencies, religious/spiritual organizations, and social services. Agencies that work with specific populations (such as ethnic or racial groups, people with disabilities, recent immigrants and refugees, or prison inmates) are also potential resources to a SART.

Sixty-five of Arkansas’s 75 counties are considered rural or partially rural. Because of the rural nature of our state, educating communities about SARTs has been a challenge, but it is a crucial component of ensuring victims get the care and services they deserve. SARTs in rural areas allow the community to customize a team to address local challenges and barriers while taking into account any unique needs.

It takes time and dedication to build a successful SART. To keep people motivated, it is helpful if SART leaders find ways to applaud early achievements, even small ones. When asked in retrospective, SART team members often say they underestimated the difficulties involved in building collaborative relationships. Challenges might include securing a commitment from agency leaders, overcoming misconceptions that professionals in the various agencies may hold about each other, and valuing these other agencies as equal partners in the SART effort.

A SART may extend its membership outside the local area, particularly when local team members do not handle sexual assault cases frequently enough to build the level of expertise comfortably that are required for an effective response. By building a network of contacts from around the county, region, or even the state, it is possible for first responders in a rural community to get advice and assistance from “outside” experts using teleconferences or other means of communications.

The SART concept is that communities can design these teams specifically to overcome local problems and build upon local strengths. The rural SART should reflect collaborative approaches that work in each specific community.

The Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault now has a full-time SART coordinator. Nita Bargen is responsible for organizing Sexual Assault Response Teams across the state. For more information or to request training on how to establish a SART in your community, contact Nita at nbacasa@outlook.com.