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Protocols are working documents that provide direction to sexual assault responders to ensure that they consider victims' wishes and requests and maintain the quality and integrity of evidence. A number of issues must be addressed in every protocol, such as definitions of basic terms, procedures for key personnel, storage and transport of evidence, response checklists (including activation procedures and agency referrals), and important instructions for victims (e.g., the importance of not eating, drinking, urinating, bathing, or showering until the forensic medical examination is performed).
Your work is not complete when your protocol is written. The protocol, per se, is not so much a final product as it is a blueprint that will change and grow as more information becomes available.8
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One example of a protocol is A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations: Adults/Adolescents. Although limited to the forensic medical response following sexual assault, the protocol underscores the importance of multidisciplinary roles and responsibilities.
For examples of SART-specific protocols, guidelines, and standards, check out the following:
- Alaska Statewide Protocols for Sexual Assault Response Teams.
- Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault (New Jersey).
- Halton (Canada) Community Response Protocols for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
- Protocol To Assist Victims of Relationship, Domestic and Sexual Violence (Penn State University).
- San Diego County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Standards of Practice.
- Sexual Assault Interagency Council Protocols (Winona County, Minnesota).
- Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Guidelines (Pennsylvania).
- Texas Model Protocol for Responding to Sexual Assault.
- West Virginia Protocol For Responding to Victims of Sexual Assault.
SART protocol development requires each agency on your SART to customize its sexual assault protocols or guidelines to fit into a multidisciplinary, coordinated response. Because interagency response systems differ, a SART responsibility matrix can help team members organize their roles and responsibilities to facilitate an integrated protocol for the team.
In This Toolkit: Know Your Team
What is a responsibility matrix? It's a tool you can develop that quickly shows all team members what their roles are and what other team members' roles are, organized by the service provided. One example is the Minnesota Model Sexual Assault Response Protocol. The matrix does not represent all the steps involved in the handling of every sexual assault case; to remain manageable, it lists tasks that directly involve or affect victims or have considerable implications for the team. You can use this matrix as a guide, but you will need to customize it to fit your SART's needs and also should update the matrix periodically to account for any changes taking place in your jurisdiction (e.g., changes in the law, technology, nature of crime).
You will need to balance the need for structure and certainty with a system that allows for flexibility based on victims' specific needs and case variables. For example, once policies are written, there could be legal or procedural repercussions when procedures are not followed, no matter how compelling the reason.
To offset this potential problem, some teams refrain from using the term protocol and write their policies as guidelines to minimize legal repercussions when policies are not followed.
Some teams develop protocols for each judicial district as mandated by statute. For example, Georgia Statute 15-24-2 mandates the formation of a sexual assault protocol committee, stipulates who will serve on the committee, and governs the frequency of meetings. The statute states that the protocol shall be a written document outlining in detail the procedures used for investigating, collecting evidence, paying for expenses related to evidence collection, and prosecuting cases arising from alleged sexual assault. Once the protocol is written, the protocol committee continues to meet at least annually to evaluate the effectiveness of the protocol and appropriately modify and update it. The statute further states that a failure by an agency to follow the protocol shall not constitute an affirmative or other defense to prosecution of a sexual assault, nor shall a failure by an agency to follow the protocol give rise to a civil cause of action.