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SART Approach for Anonymous Reporting—North Carolina

The Chapel Hill Police Department's Sexual Assault Response Team initially consisted of a sexual assault investigator, a juvenile investigator, and a sexual assault/domestic violence victim advocacy specialist. The team was created to provide case consultation to investigators and case management to victims. In March 1996, the SART concept was opened to field officers and 11 were selected to participate. Currently, 37 officers have received specialized training in the response to sexual violence and work closely with the department's investigators and crisis counselors. In addition to normal shift calls, these trained officers are required to respond to all sexually violent crimes that occur during their shift.

The SART model provides sensitive and consistent responses to victims of sexual violence, reduces the need for multiple victim contacts, promotes precise case documentation, and maintains standards for reliable evidence collection. Prior to 1990, the Chapel Hill Police Department's SART did not have a formal system for collecting evidence on sexual assaults that were not reported to police. However, the police department knew that evidence collected anonymously could provide crucial links to unsolved crimes and more options for victims of sexual violence. The benefits of anonymous reporting to law enforcement include providing a way to track suspects' modes of operation (MOs), suspect descriptions, crime locations, and victim demographics. Victims benefit because officers can recover time-sensitive evidence if victims later choose to make formal reports, and SART practitioners can connect them to community-based services.

Making the Idea a Reality
The Chapel Hill Police Department consulted with their department's attorney and the district attorney (DA) about creating a formal method of documenting sexual assault reports from victims who did not want their identities known. The DA and police department attorney both agreed that such a system could provide a vital link to crucial evidence for existing cases. A protocol emerged that adhered to the state's reporting requirements and the department's standard operating procedures. For example, anonymous reporting is not an option for victims who are minors or for children who fall into the mandated reporting category. However, older adolescents who are accompanied by a parent and develop safety plans may be eligible to file an anonymous report. Anonymous reports are tracked by the sexual assault specialist and the lieutenant of investigations and analyzed against existing sexual assault, burglary, peeping, and indecent exposure cases.

North Carolina's anonymous reporting form (Word) has a place to document whether a victim agrees to be contacted by law enforcement if a link with other sexual assault cases should develop. If a victim consents to be contacted and a link to other cases develops, the sexual assault specialist works with the investigations division before contacting the victim. The sexual assault specialist performs sensitive followup with the victim with the goal of receiving his or her cooperation in a formal investigation. The original anonymous report becomes a foundation document upon which to build an investigative interview, similar to an information report or a written statement.

Lessons Learned
Anonymous reporting is a standard option offered by the Chapel Hill Police Department. The number of anonymous reports per year generally averages between two and five cases. Data collected from anonymous reports thus far shows that the victim-offender relationship encompasses both stranger and non-stranger assaults. Although most reports filed anonymously involve an offender known to the victim, blind reports are also made in cases in which the victim does not know the perpetrator. These cases generally involve male rape victims, same-sex sexual assault cases, and cases in which victims' have an insurmountable fear of offender retaliation.

Evaluation Efforts
The anonymous reporting option is reviewed annually to ensure that the reports stay within the department's standard operating procedures for sexual assaults and rapes.

Contact Information
Chapel Hill Police Department
Sabrina Garcia, M.A.
828 Martin Luther King Boulevard
Chapel Hill, NC 27514