Sexual Assault Response Teams: Supporting victims, facilitating justice.

Second in a three-part series on the impact and importance of sexual assault response teams (SARTs).

In the U.S., a reported sexual assault occurs every two minutes [1] According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) National Crime Victimization Survey, there is an average of 293,066 sexual assault and rape victims (age 12 or older) each year.

The SART evolution.

In the 1970s, sexual assault statutes began to shift focus from victims to perpetrators. Since then, statutory definitions have been modified; victims no longer need to prove resistance; enhanced penalties have been imposed for facilitating sexual assault with drugs or alcohol; and marital rape exceptions have been repealed, among other changes.

Collaborating on the victim’s behalf.

Generally, a SART consists of:

  • A sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE. The SANE is specially trained to care for the patient conduct a medical-forensic exam. The SANE also provides medical care, if needed.
  • A law enforcement officer, who conducts an investigation and provides emergency assistance.
  • A victim advocate, to provide emotional support, referrals and information to help the survivor and if necessary support the victim’s significant others, family and friends.
  • A prosecuting attorney or other legal professional to pursue justice should an alleged perpetrator(s) be identified and charges pressed.

A SART may also include additional members, such as other health care providers, law enforcement officers, forensic scientists or other community members.

SART members collaborate to formalize interagency guidelines that prioritize victims’ needs, hold offenders accountable and promote public safety.

Some SARTs operate as informal, cooperative partnerships. Others are more formalized and coordinated. But, regardless of how it is organized or operates, a SART works to ensure victims’ rights, meet their needs, enhance evidence collection and educate the community.

The SART solution.

More than a well-intentioned exercise in victim assistance, SARTs produce measureable benefits for victims, justice and the community.

Studies by the National Institute of Justice have documented what a SART can bring to the table:

  • Enhanced quality of health care for sexual assault victims.
  • Improved quality of forensic evidence.
  • Increased law enforcement ability to collect information, file charges and refer to prosecution.
  • Increased prosecution rates over time.

Then, there’s the critical contribution that a SART can make to the more intangible but no less real and important emotional and mental health of the victim.

To get a better sense for how SARTs work and help victims cope and find justice, go here to view the short video, Break the Silence: Sexual Assault and the SART Solution.

We need more SARTs.

As beneficial to rape victims and communities as SARTs have proven themselves, there still are not nearly enough at work in the U.S. today.

There are many possible reasons, awareness of the SART movement perhaps being just one. This 3-part blog aims to increase SART awareness, and encourage readers to learn more about them.

In learning more about SARTs, you’ll discover that it’s not a start-from-scratch proposition.

When a community group or groups decides to investigate and then pursue a SART solution, there is a myriad of resources available for training and developing the team, facilitating operations, and measuring and improving results.

In the final part of this series, I’ll talk about the help available for starting and operating a SART – where to find resources and materials available, as well as networking opportunities with experienced SART members.

NEXT TIME: Getting a SART into gear.









[1] According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) National Crime Victimization Survey, there is an average of 293,066 sexual assault and rape victims (age 12 or older) each year.

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