Develop Common Definitions
You can facilitate better interagency communication by establishing common definitions for technical words. One way to create a shared language is for SART members to discuss their roles and responsibilities, giving them an opportunity to ask questions and clarify procedures. Another way to shape a common language is by developing SART protocols or guidelines, in which terms are defined and easily understood. Documenting a shared language may also mean developing a list of frequently used acronyms to ensure that all SART members understand abbreviated language used in interagency work.
Each SART is governed by statutory definitions, protocol terms, and agency-specific terminology. The following list should help you institutionalize frequently used words to ensure the words and definitions are understood and used consistently across disciplines as they refer to the response to sexual assault. The list, adapted from one developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,4 is simply a guide, a starting place, as you develop a multidisciplinary, shared language specific to your jurisdiction.
Freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact as indicated by words or overt actions by a person legally and functionally competent.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a three-part definition of disability. An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. ADA defines physical impairment as "any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine." ADA does not list all the diseases or conditions that are covered because it is impossible to document every possible impairment.
Someone victims know but who is not (currently or previously) related by blood or marriage. Friends/acquaintances could include coworkers, neighbors, dates, former dates, or roommates (not an exhaustive list).
Inability to consent:
An inability to freely agree to have sexual contact or sexual intercourse due to age, illness, disability, or being asleep, unconscious, or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Inability to refuse:
Sexual contact was not refused because of the use of weapons or due to physical violence, threats of physical violence, real or perceived coercion, intimidation, or pressure or misuse of authority.
A single act or series of acts of sexual violence that are connected to one another. The incident could persist over a period of minutes, hours, or days. One perpetrator or multiple perpetrators may be involved.
Current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Intimate partners may or may not be cohabiting and may not have existing sexual relationships.
Mental health care:
Individual or group care by credentialed or licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or other counselors who work with mental health issues. This definition could include pastoral counseling if such counseling is specifically related to the mental health of the victim.
Non-contact sexual abuse:
Non-contact sexual abuse can include voyeurism, exhibitionism, pornography, sexual harassment, or taking nude photographs of a sexual nature of another person without his or her legal consent or knowledge.
Non-strangers might include guards, maintenance people, clerks, and others who are known to the victim but who are not friends, acquaintances, or former or current intimate partners.
Person in position of power or trust:
This category involves offenders who have power or authority over victims. Persons in position of power and trust could include teachers, caregivers, religious leaders, coaches, health care professionals, or employers (not an exhaustive list).
Physical evidence collection:
Physical evidence can include hairs, fibers, or specimens of body fluids from a victim's body or garments or other tangible evidence that may aid in the identification and prosecution of perpetrators.
The intellectual, mental health, emotional, behavioral, or social functioning of victims. Changes in psychological functioning can be either temporary (180 days or less) or chronic (greater than 180 days). Examples of changes in psychological functioning include increases in or development of anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociation, inattention, memory impairment, self-medication, self-mutilation, sexual dysfunction, and attempted or completed suicide.
This type of setting includes nursing homes, college campuses, retirement homes, military barracks, or jails and prisons. Victims may reside at these settings. Perpetrators may have access to these institutions (e.g., by being an employee).
Agencies and organizations positioned to respond to victims of sexual assault after an initial intervention. Individuals considered secondary responders may include probation and parole officers, faith-based personnel, correctional officers, civil attorneys, and teachers or professors (not an exhaustive list).
Sex act (or sexual act):
Contact between the penis and the vulva or the penis and the anus involving penetration, however slight; contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva, or anus; or penetration of the anal or genital opening of another person by a hand, finger, or other object.
Intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person without his or her consent, or of a person who is unable to consent or refuse.
Substance abuse treatment:
Any treatment related to alcohol or other drug use, abuse, or dependence.