Coalition-Driven SART DevelopmentFlorida
The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, the state's coalition of sexual violence programs, has made SART development an agency priority. The coalition dedicates staff time and a portion of the agency's budget to assist communities in forming and developing SARTs.
SART success requires the backing of community decisionmakers and statewide leaders. Jointly, this creates a ripple effect of support that promotes ownership in the SART model and expands potential funding streams. The coalition's SART strategy is twofold: (1) engage influential partners at the statewide level in promoting SARTs and (2) reach out to individual communities to help them develop SARTs. On a statewide level, the coalition works with the Office of the Attorney General's Division of Victim Services, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and the Florida Department of Children and Family Services. On a local level, the coalition works closely with seven Florida counties by providing technical assistance and training on the SART model and by assisting counties with bringing collaborative partnerships together.
The goals are to hold offenders accountable and improve or increase service delivery options for victims, regardless of whether they report the assault.
Making the Idea a Reality
The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence engaged state and local leaders' support for community collaboration. A SART development model, adapted from the California, Minnesota, and Oregon sexual assault coalitions, was created that was sufficiently broad to ensure that communities could tailor the process to fit their needs. Coalitions can assist communities by helping them
- Identify an individual or agency in the community that can lead SART development.
- Meet with members of each discipline to explain the SART model and address concerns and questions.
- Set an agenda and date for a daylong training on SART.
- Strategize ways to ensure that decisionmakers from core agencies (e.g., State Attorney's Office, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, rape crisis centers) attend the training.
- Research community needs and issues (e.g., collaborative histories, politics).
- Contact representatives from medical, legal, and advocacy agencies to assess their impression of the current response to sexual violence.
- Host a daylong training on SART, which should include developing a multidisciplinary protocol, creating opportunities for participants to contribute, and discussing posttraining strategies.
- Follow up with the participants to offer assistance and resources.
Coalitions can also attend community-based SART meeting to observe progress and offer assistance.
Benefits to Victims
Communities report that SARTs provide victims with a more effective, caring response from each discipline. Additionally, SARTs promote guidelines for monitoring and evaluating practices within agencies and across disciplines. The review process enables agencies to focus on issues they may never have considered before and holds SART members to a higher standard of service. Lastly, SARTs are positioned to spot gaps and problems in specific cases quickly and to proactively address issues, which benefits victims now and in the future.
Benefits to Victim Service Professionals
Victim service professionals list many benefits to collaboration. They find it helpful, even though sometimes uncomfortable, to bring problems out into the open. However, when communities acknowledge obstacles, they can strategize ways to overcome them.
Service providers also find that when everyone works together to improve the response to victims, solutions are more likely to be effective. For example, in Okaloosa County, the team is developing a sexual assault nurse examiner program and setting up an independent facility for exams. Miami-Dade team members are successfully working together to establish a victim advocacy program.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that victims are taken more seriously and that prosecution rates have increased.
- The need to tailor SARTs. The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence learned that every community is different: what works in one county may not succeed in another. Guiding communities through SART development has striking similarities to advocating for victims. Coalitions can provide resources, share experiences, and suggest best practices, but the communities decide when they will proceed and which options to use.
- Timing. The Florida Coalition worked extensively with some counties, but nothing came to fruition. A year after the coalition worked with one community, the State Attorney's Office pledged to get the SART off the ground.
- Realistic expectations. The communities organizing SARTs have overwhelmingly stated that it involves more work and takes longer than expected. Most teams believe they will agree on responsibilities and write and employ a protocol within 3 to 4 months, but later find that it can take 1 to 2 years. Some discover the real work just begins when they finish the protocol and must then implement the new practices.
- All core responders needed. Teams report that it is imperative to have all the necessary agencies and people at the table to make effective changes. One community was unable to move forward, for example, because it could never gain the prosecutor's support.
- Ability to overcome conflict. Conflict often makes collaboration difficult. People may even threaten to quit the team because of it. Spending time when the team first forms focusing on goals and guidelines may make it easier to continue working when conflicts surface.
- Committed leadership and membership. Perhaps the most important lesson learned is that success requires a committed, persistent leader who will schedule meetings, ensure that members complete assignments, and meet deadlines. In Florida, every team leader has other work responsibilities. Leaders report that when their other work priorities require their attention, SART initiatives stall. Conversely, the leader cannot do all the work of a team. Each member must take responsibility for the team's success.
SART development requires hard work across the board. By the same token, when communities dedicate themselves to this collaborative endeavor to improve the response to sexual assault victims, it brings unparalleled benefits to everyone.
Florida Council Against Sexual Violence
1311 North Paul Russell Road, Suite A204
Tallahassee, FL 32301