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The Most Important Features for an Effective Sexual Assault Response Team

Sexual Assault Response Teams hold the promise of improving victim experiences, increasing prosecution rates, and reducing sexual assaults. To understand how effective SARTs work, researchers studied the structure and operations of SARTS across the U.S.
Date Published
July 11, 2017

SARTs provide an organized and community-based response to sexual assault. They bring together a collection of stakeholders including rape victim advocates, medical/forensic examiners, law enforcement, and prosecutors. They also sometimes include members of faith communities and other social services.

In two studies, researchers found that SART stakeholder membership, collaboration, and implementation varied significantly, which may explain prior research with mixed results on effectiveness.[1]

The goal of the first study was to classify SARTs from a national representative sample using three factors — the number of different stakeholder members, formalization of SART processes, and collaborative activities. Researchers categorized SARTs into three groups and compared the groups to determine which were best able to improve legal outcomes.

Due to difficulties in collecting official data, the outcome was limited to perceived effectiveness in improving outcomes, such as improvements to police processing, likelihood of prosecution, and victims’ participation in the criminal justice system.

Researchers found that teams with more formal procedures, frequent collaboration and meetings, and more varied stakeholder groups, coupled with program evaluation, had the highest levels of perceived effectiveness.

In a second study of three exemplary SARTs, relationships among stakeholders were examined in more detail.

Social network analysis revealed that these effective SARTs interacted frequently, felt valued by one another, and viewed one another as respected resources. Team members that valued one another were also more likely to meet and communicate regularly with one another to coordinate a response to sexual assault, indicating a potential reciprocal relationship.

Overall, researchers concluded that SARTs need to have a sufficient amount of structure to be very effective and that “SARTs need to develop a high degree of collaborative relationships across a diverse group of sexual assault stakeholder groups, both from the criminal and noncriminal justice sectors.” These stakeholders include police and prosecutors as well as victim advocates and forensic examiners.

About This Article

The research discussed in the article was performed by Rebecca Campbell, Deborah Bybee, and Jennifer Watling Neal, and supported by grant 2010-WG-BX-0010 awarded to Michigan State University.

This article is based on the report titled “Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Implementation and Collaborative Processes: What Works Best for the Criminal Justice System?” (pdf, 226 pages).

The researchers also published the article “Coordinated Community Efforts To Respond to Sexual Assault: A National Study of Sexual Assault Response Team Implementation” based on this study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence; view an abstract of that paper.

Date Published: July 11, 2017