Sexual assault response teams first emerged in the late 1980s and are now widely considered a best practice for responding to disclosures of sexual assault in the community.[1] The National Protocol promotes SARTs as groups that can facilitate an immediate response that is coordinated and victim-centered. “Coordinated response” in this context refers to all initial responders working together with the goal of timely streamlined interventions. “Victim-centered responserefers to an intervention that systematically and deliberately focuses on the needs of the victim. All elements of the immediate response—victim protection, medical care, evidence collection, emotional support, and case investigation—can be coordinated and victim-centered.

Core community SART agencies include the following:

  • local rape crisis centers, for victim support and advocacy services;
  • sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) programs/hospitals, which have specially trained staff, often nurses, who conduct medical forensic examinations; and
  • the law enforcement agency that has criminal jurisdiction for immediate protection, crime-scene evidence collection and documentation, and investigation.[2]

Although SARTs vary in form, membership, and operation, all SARTs should have a protocol that triggers a coordinated victim-centered response across core agencies when a sexual assault is disclosed or discovered. In addition to activating a standardized response in individual cases, SARTs typically hold periodic meetings of their members to conduct case reviews and maintain communication among agencies, address potential or emerging issues, promote training, share resources, and continue to improve team effectiveness.

The SART is “activated” whenever someone discloses sexual assault victimization to a SART agency, regardless of when the incident occurred. In addition to carrying out its policy on how to respond, the agency follows a protocol for coordinating the response among SART agencies. All SART agencies are prepared to intervene, but the victim’s needs guide and determine the services provided in each case. (There are exceptions: For instance, under mandatory reporting laws, responders must report sexual assaults to law enforcement when victims are children or dependent adults.)

[1] See the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)’s SART Toolkit for more general information on SARTs.

[2] A prosecutor’s office is also a core member of a SART. This office may be involved in the immediate response in an advisory capacity. More often, however, its function is to support and sometimes even provide coordinating leadership to the SART, recognizing that SART involvement may make it more likely that a case will move successfully through the justice system.

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