Sexual Assault Response Teams

Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) are collaborative groups that bring together different sexual assault stakeholders, including rape victim advocates, medical examiners, and police, among others, to coordinate their response to sexual assaults. SARTs aim to improve the quality of survivors’ help- seeking experiences, as well as aiming to improve their cases’ outcomes in the criminal justice system. SARTs can range from informal to very formal groups.

According to one study of SARTs in the United States, SARTs are made up of an average of 12 different organizations, with the most common active members being police, rape crisis centre staff, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), and prosecutors. Some of the collaborative activities that SARTs engage in include case review, multidisciplinary cross-trainings, and the development of memoranda of understanding between different stakeholders.

Many institutions have recommended the implementation of SARTs, including the United States Department of Justice, leading to their widespread application across the United States. SARTs also exist in certain parts of Canada. Research suggests that SARTs are effective in three domains: improving the quality of multidisciplinary relationships between stakeholders; improving case outcomes, namely arrests and charging rates; and improving help-seeking experiences, specifically increasing referrals to services and reducing secondary trauma to survivors. A number of studies that interviewed SART members found that these members believed that SARTs improved communication between victims and sexual assault responders, and further believed that SARTs led to a less traumatic process for victims. Additionally, one study looking at the relationship between schools’ sexual violence policies and the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses, found that schools that had a sexual violence policy that included a description of their SART had the lowest campus sexual assault prevalence for both women and men.

The most effective SARTs with the greatest impact on survivors’ help-seeking experiences, according to the research, are those which use more formal structures and resources to organize their teams, for example having a formal team leader, or having a committee formation. Effective SARTs also engage in greater institutionalization of multidisciplinary trainings and protocol review in their collaborations, as well as engaging in formal program evaluations to assess their team’s success.

To date, no research has investigated the outcomes of campus SARTs specifically, however, one literature review did explore the differences and similarities between community SARTs and the more broadly defined campus team approaches. Multidisciplinary members of campus team approaches outlined in the literature included campus law enforcement, student services, campus mental health and health services, student conduct, the Ombuds office, students, faculty, campus religious ministries, community survivor advocacy agencies, community health center representatives, and community law enforcement. One campus-specific challenge to the functioning of the team approach was the conflict between allocating resources for interventions for survivors, and prevention efforts.

In sum, SARTs represent an evidence-based practice that can be adapted to the campus context for the sake of improved relationships between sexual violence stakeholders, as well as to improve the help-seeking experience for survivors.

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