8 Oct 2020

Hawai’i Island SART and the “Aloha Spirit”

Authored by Stephanie Bates

Crisis Coordinator of the YWCA of Hawai’i Island Sexual Assault Support Services program



I would like to share with my mainlander colleagues how our sexual assault response teams’ (SARTs’) practice of the “Aloha Spirit” has made a difference to survivors. All SART members work to ensure the “Aloha Spirit” is honored in all relationships.

“Aloha” is more than a word of greeting, farewell or salutation. “Aloha” means mutual regard and affection, and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. “Aloha” is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. “Aloha” means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.

These are character traits that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of the people of Hawai’i. This is the working philosophy of native Hawaiians. It was presented as a gift to us, the people of Hawai’i, and we are eager to share it with you.

A cohesive and communicative SART increases the quality of professional and timely care that survivors of sexual assault will receive. SARTs in the state of Hawai’i — specifically on Hawai’i Island (commonly called Big Island), where I live and work — have become stronger and more united as communication has increased.

I am grateful that our Hawai’i Island SARTs have developed and maintain collaborative relationships because they ensure that survivors receive the highest level of care and experience positive outcomes.

Each member of Hawai’i Island SARTs recognizes the importance of collaborative team engagement in working efficiently to ensure timely and well-orchestrated responses to reports of sexual assault. Unquestionably, through this approach, survivors of sexual assault and their families receive holistic treatment and equitable access to resources.

Survivors take comfort in knowing that their stories are believed, and because they know they will be believed, they are more likely to report sexual abuse. They feel heard, understood and more confident in their ability to move forward in their healing process. And they are more likely to encourage others to report.

Barriers Experienced by Community Members and SARTs

Living and working in a remote rural community poses many challenges for sexual assault survivors and the SARTS members who want to serve them. Hawai’i Island is geographically vast, spreading over 4,028 square miles.

On Hawai’i Island, sexual assault forensic examinations are conducted at two of the major medical facilities, one on the east side of the island and the other on the west side. Survivors sometimes have to commute across the island from their home community to seek treatment from sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs). This is due in part to challenges in funding the SANE program, staffing shortages and nurse availability. In addition, many Hawai’i residents work more than one job to afford to live in Hawai’i. This includes many SANEs who have full-time employment elsewhere and can provide services only in their off time.

Distance poses challenges for both accessing and providing services. Transportation is an issue for many residents. Hawai’i Island has insufficient public transit, and many residents don’t have a car. An individual or family without access to a reliable form of transportation is often at the mercy of friends or other family members to support them in accessing services. Fortunately, members of the SART can sometimes provide transportation services.

Poverty is another barrier experienced by many people in Hawai’i. Hawai’i has a high cost of living, and 18.9% of people in the County of Hawai’i are classified as living in poverty (State of Hawai’i Data Book, 2020). Fortunately, many organizations that support the SARTs offer gratuitous services so survivors can focus on healing without financial concern about this assistance.

Cultural Implications

Hawai’i is a culturally diverse state inclusive of ethnically diverse populations. The Hawai’i Island SARTs ensure that members of the multidisciplinary team are trained to understand the varying cultural needs of Hawai’i’s population to provide culturally competent service. This increases the likelihood that clients will feel heard, understood, and supported.

Hawai’i Island SARTs play a critical role in creating sexual assault awareness through ongoing community engagement, awareness campaigns and training. Because the island is removed from major urban centers, it is imperative that the multidisciplinary teams maintain respectful and engaging relationships with the community. Members of the SARTs are community-minded and frequently engage with members of the community through hosting appreciation events, participating in awareness campaigns, holding vigils, and attending other community events where they can engage with members of the community.

About the YWCA of Hawai’i Island

The YWCA of Hawai’i Island began operating the Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) program in Hawai’i in the early 1970s. Since then the program has grown exponentially, becoming the sole sexual assault crisis response program on the island of Hawai’i. Our team of advocates, crisis intervention specialists, SANEs and clinical therapists provide 24/7 support to women, men and children who have recently experienced a sexual assault or identify as a survivor of a past sexual assault. In addition to crisis response, the YWCA SASS team provides prevention education in schools and community centers to school-aged children and their families, and free, confidential services to all people across the island.

About the Hawai’i Island Sexual Assault Response Teams

The Hawai’i Island SARTs multidisciplinary teams comprise members of registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits and state agencies. These agencies include the YWCA of Hawai’i Island; Child and Family Service; Children’s Justice Center; Hawai’i Police Department; County of Hawai’i Prosecutors Office; State Department of Human Services Child Welfare Services; and Department of Health, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division.

Hawai’i Island’s SARTs provide comprehensive and professional services to survivors of sexual assault. The team approach ensures survivors receive a seamless and compassionate response to all reported incidents of sexual assault.

Stephanie Bates

Stephanie Bates is the Crisis Coordinator of the YWCA of Hawai’i Island Sexual Assault Support Services program. Stephanie’s background is in social work. In addition, she is nearing completion of a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a diploma in art therapy. In her role with the YWCA, Stephanie supervises the team of crisis advocates.

She also works directly with survivors of sexual assault, providing crisis counseling and conducting intake assessments with survivors entering the therapeutic program.

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