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What is a SART?
A Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is comprised of professionals who work to coordinate an immediate, quality, multidisciplinary, victim-centered response to sexual assaults in a community. This response prioritizes the needs of sexual assault victims and holds offenders accountable. Some SARTs also focus on providing sexual assault prevention strategies and education to the communities they serve.
A SART works to minimize the trauma for sexual assault victims when they seek medical and legal assistance. Through coordination during the investigation process, a SART seeks to reduce repeated questioning of the victim and increase effective collection and preservation of evidence. A team approach helps meet the victim's needs and can increase the likelihood that a victim will seek follow-up services, thereby promoting healing.
Who is on a SART?
A SART typically includes representatives from the hospital, law enforcement, the rape crisis center and the prosecuting attorneys office. (Other partners may include representatives from state forensic labs, public health departments, victim-witness programs, child/adult protective services, emergency medical services, college campuses, disability service providers, senior services, organizations serving victims from under-served populations and social service agencies.)
- Law enforcement conducts the investigation and provides emergency assistance, if a victim chooses to report the assault to law enforcement.
- Emergency Department medical staff or SANEs conduct the forensic medical examination. (Some communities utilize specially trained nurses called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners – SANEs .)
- Rape crisis center advocates provide emotional support, information, and referrals to the victim during the examination and police interview and throughout the healing process.
- Prosecutors review the evidence and decide whether or not to pursue the prosecution of the offender. They work with members of the SART to coordinate support for the victim during the criminal justice process.
How Does a SART Work?
The goal of a SART is to ensure a seamless, coordinated, victim-centered response to sexual assault victims and their loves ones. A SART provides a venue for first responders to:
- Develop relationships
- Gain an understanding of individual roles and responsibilities of first responders
- Share information and resources
- Identify gaps in the service delivery system
- Increase awareness on issues of sexual assault and stalking in the community
- Increase victim and community safety
- Increase reporting of sexual assault and stalking
- Increase arrests and hold offenders accountable
Regardless of who the victim first contacts, SARTs have a protocol to follow that alerts other members of the team, depending on the victim's wishes.
A victim advocate should be involved at the earliest possible time after the sexual assault, if the victim has given consent for services, regardless of whether or not the victim chooses to report the assault to law enforcement.
At any licensed medical facility, the treatment of a sexual assault victim should be considered a medical emergency. When a sexual assault victim goes to the Emergency Department (and chooses to report the assault to law enforcement) law enforcement should be notified immediately in order to begin the investigation.
The SANE (a nurse specially trained to collect forensic evidence) or Emergency Department staff will be contacted to conduct the forensic medical examination. Additionally, a medical examination is suggested in all cases of sexual assault, regardless of the length of time that has elapsed since the sexual assault.
With the advocate present to provide support, the hospital staff/SANE and police can coordinate questioning and reduce repetition. The advocate can remain in the exam room, with the victim's permission, to provide support during the exam. The police officer waits outside the exam room while evidence is collected. The sex crime evidence collection kit is turned over to law enforcement or locked in a secured area for law enforcement to pick up at a later time.
When the exam is completed, the SANE assists the victim in arranging for any follow up medical care. The advocate makes arrangements to contact the victim for supportive counseling and legal advocacy. Law enforcement works with the victim and/or victim advocate to schedule a follow up, more in-depth interview.
If the victim has chosen not to make a report to law enforcement at this time, a forensic medical examination should still be conducted and the SANE or attending medical staff will send the sex crime evidence collection kit to Marshall University Forensic Science Center (MUFSC), where the collected evidence will be stored for potential future use. It is important to note that if liquid samples were collected as a part of the toxicology kit (blood and urine), the samples will have a limited life span and will degrade over time. Other samples collected as part of the forensic medical examination (swabs, etc) will have an unlimited lifespan if collected and dried properly.
Should the decision be made later to initiate an investigation in a non-reported case, the victim would need to contact law enforcement and provide the kit tracking number for law enforcement to be able to secure the sex crime evidence collection kit from MUFSC.
Learn more: Not Reporting the Assault
Why is a SART Important to a Community?
In West Virginia, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 21 men will experience an attempted or completed forcible rape in their lifetimes (WV Health Statistics Center, BRFSS, 2008). Research shows that few assaults (16-40%) will ever be reported to law enforcement (Kilpatrick, 2009). Reasons for the lack of reporting include systemic breakdowns within service delivery systems, low arrest rates, low conviction rates, and lack of available medical care. SARTs and SANE programs impact all of these issues, ensuring that survivors of sexual assault receive immediate, accessible, and comprehensive services by trained and caring local professionals.
Through the coordination of the investigation process, a SART works to reduce repeated questioning of the victim and to increase the effective collection and preservation of evidence. With all service providers working together, it ensures that victims have immediate access to the services they need.
Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs are national programs that have been identified by the U.S. Department of Justice as promising practices in decreasing violence against women. FRIS provides resources, training and technical assistance to West Virginia communities interested in developing SANE programs and SARTs.
Kilpatrick, D. and McCauley, J. (2009, September). Understanding National Rape Statistics. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved October 2, 2009 from: http://www.vawnet.org.
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, Health Statistics Center (2008). Behavioral risk factor surveillance system survey. Charleston, WV: Department of Health and Human Resources. See www.wvdhhr.org/bph/hsc/.