Per O.C.G.A. § 15-24-2, the chief superior court judge of each circuit is required to establish a written sexual assault response protocol to ensure coordination and cooperation between all agencies involved in sexual assault cases to increase the efficiency of agencies’ responses and minimize stress to the survivor. The committee is mandated to meet at least annually after the protocol has been created in order to evaluate its effectiveness and modify it as needed. Updated and signed protocols should be emailed to email@example.com annually to ensure compliance with HB 255.
How to Create a Protocol
Much research and work has been done to assist communities in organizing community SART programs. One widely used method is the Eight Step Model Process developed by Boles and Patterson in their book, Improving Community Response to Crime Victims: An Eight-Step Model for Developing Protocol. The Eight-Step process is:
- Step 1: Inventory of Existing Services
- Step 2: Victim Experience Survey
- Step 3: Community Needs Assessment
- Step 4: Writing the Protocol
- Step 5: Formal Agency Adoption of Protocol
- Step 6: Training
- Step 7: Monitoring
- Step 8: Evaluation
The sections below explain each step in detail to assist in the course of your SART planning.
Step One: Inventory of Existing Services
The first step in organizing your SART is an Inventory of Existing Services. The purpose of taking inventory of existing services is to examine areas in your community currently addressing victims of sexual assault and to become aware of all services and resources available to these victims. The inventory should be as comprehensive as possible, and it should include services from your local sexual assault crisis center, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, medical facilities, mental health programs, victim services organizations, and other social service agencies that are able to assist sexual assault victims. The result of the inventory of existing services is a comprehensive directory of agencies and organizations providing services to victims of sexual assault within your community.
To conduct the inventory, your SART needs to develop a questionnaire to identify five issues:
- service availability
- quality; and
Step Two: Victim Experience Survey
The second step in the process is the Victim Experience Survey (VES). This confidential survey is conducted to determine the victims’ assessments of how well the system is responding to their needs. The VES should assess the feelings of the victims regarding how their cases were handled and how they were treated by each agency/organization. To find out information about how each agency/organization responds to sexual assault victims, it is important to assess victims throughout the criminal justice process, including those whose cases:
- are not reported to authorities
- are not pursued because the perpetrator is not apprehended
- are not filed (or dropped) after the initial investigation
- are pled out before or during trial
- are completed through trial, but may or may not obtain a guilty verdict; and
- result in a guilty verdict with sentences that may or may not include incarceration.
Several agencies can be responsible for conducting this survey. The logical choices include the local sexual assault crisis center or law enforcement, as these agencies will have the most contact with the victim during the criminal justice process. It is recommended your SART members work closely with the local sexual assault crisis center in developing and implementing the survey as they can be very helpful in creating a victim-sensitive survey and an appropriate implementation approach. The primary focus should be placed on victim experience, not the goal of the system. The survey packet can be mailed to victims through a lottery process to ensure randomization. Once the responses are returned and counted, the information will be used in the third step of the Eight-Step Process.
Step Three: Community Needs Assessment
The third step in the process is the community needs assessment. This step is intended to answer two primary questions:
- What services does the community require to meet the needs of sexual assault victims?
- What should the SART do to meet these needs?
When conducting a community needs assessment, there are several questions that your SART must explore to develop a SART program unique to your own community:
- What is the population of your county, city, or community? Is it urban, rural, suburban, or mixed
- How many sexual assault cases have been reported annually for the past three years in your county, city, or community? Keep in mind that this is only a small percentage of the actual number of sexual assaults occurring because most sexual assaults are not reported?
- How many cases were prosecuted? Convictions?
- How many of the cases were adults, adolescents, and children?
- How many victims were seen by the local sexual assault crisis center in the past three years?
In addition to these general community assessment questions, there are specific questions targeted toward agencies that will be working with sexual assault victims in some way.
The following are some of the agencies and samples of questions pertinent to their involvement in the process.
Sexual Assault Crisis Center
- What local sexual assault crisis center serves your area?
- Does the sexual assault crisis center offer 24-hour on-call services?
- How many survivors does the sexual assault crisis center provide services to each year?
- What kind of services do they provide?
- What training is required or provided to sexual assault crisis center staff/volunteers?
- What does the sexual assault crisis center think about the effectiveness of the current medical response to sexual assault victims?
- Given what they know about SART programs, what does the sexual assault crisis center see as the benefits and difficulties in developing, implementing, and sustaining a SART program in this community?
- How many law enforcement agencies exist in your county, city, or community?
- Do any of them have a special unit that investigates sex crimes?
- To what facilities do law enforcement officers usually take sexual assault victims?
- How effective does law enforcement consider the current medical response to sexual assault victims?
- What is law enforcement’s role in maintaining proper chain-of-custody?
- What training do the law enforcement officers have in dealing with sexual assault cases?
- Given what they know about SART programs, what does law enforcement see as the benefits and difficulties in developing, implementing, and sustaining a SART program in this community?
Hospitals and Exam Facilities
- How many hospitals and/or examination facilities exist in your county, city, or community?
- Do all of the hospitals examine and treat sexual assault victims?
- How many sexual assault examinations does each hospital/exam facility perform on adults each year?
- Who usually conducts the exams in each hospital?
- Is specially trained staff available to conduct sexual assault exams?
- What challenges do facilities face when working with sexual assault victims?
- What types of policies and procedures have been developed to treat sexual assault victims?
- What type of referrals do facilities provide to victims?
- Does the hospital/exam facility contact the Sexual Assault Crisis Center to coordinate response by an advocate to provide on-site support and crisis services?
- Given what they know about SART programs, what do the hospital/exam facilities see as the benefits and difficulties in developing, implementing, and sustaining a SART program in this community?
- How many sex crimes does the prosecutor’s office review each year?
- How many do they indict each year?
- What percentages of dispositions are guilty?
- Does the community have specialized prosecutors for sexual violence cases? If so, what specialized training is received?
- What is their experience with the forensic evidence collected in the hospitals/exam facilities?
- Is the evidence they need provided to them?
- Do they encounter any difficulties when medical staff testifies?
- Is there a victim witness program in the prosecutor’s office?
- Given what they know about SART programs, what does the prosecutor’s office see as the benefits and difficulties in developing, implementing, and sustaining a SART program in this community?
Victim Witness Programs
- Is there a victim/witness program in your community?
- What agency houses/sponsors the victim/witness program in your community?
- What services does the program provide?
- In what way, if any, do they interact with the local sexual assault crisis center?
- How many sexual assault victims does the program serve each year?
- Does the program provide services to victims in cases where an arrest has not been made?
- Considering what may be known about SARTs, what does the victim/witness program see as the benefits and difficulties in developing and implementing a SART program in this community?
- What other committees, task forces, or coalitions already exist that address related issues, such as sex offender treatment, violence prevention, child abuse, or domestic violence?
- What funding sources might be available?
- How are the current services funded?
Once you have completed this community assessment, the SART must compile a report of their findings. Which will then be used in the next vital step of the process: writing the protocol.
Step Four: Writing the Protocol
The fourth step in the process, and the most time-consuming, is writing the protocol. The purpose of writing a multiagency protocol is to define the roles and the responsibilities of each agency as it responds to the needs of the victims. It is essential to remember that each community differs from others, and a protocol developed for one community is not necessarily a sufficient protocol for another community. There is no “cookie cutter” approach that works for everyone. At this point your SART members should be familiar enough with each other and the community needs to develop an appropriate protocol based on those needs.
Many protocols are developed using an agency responsibility checklist, which specifies what each specific agency should be doing when working with victims of sexual assault. Once the checklist is assembled, it can be easily transformed into a written protocol and distributed to all agencies and personnel involved. Some communities have even developed “pocket protocols” which are small, index-card sized, laminated booklets that SART members can easily carry with them to reference as needed. These booklets usually contain the responsibility checklist in an easy-to-read form.
A sample memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been included for your reference. This MOU can serve as your written protocol until your protocol has been completed. A sample SART protocol template has also been included for reference, keeping in mind that the approach needs to be appropriate for your community’s specific needs.
Step Five: Formal Agency Adoption of the Protocol
After the protocol is written, each agency affected should review it carefully and secure an official acceptance of the protocol by the agency director on behalf of the organization. This is also an excellent time to consider expanding the membership of the SART so that every agency identified in the protocol has the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.
In 2021, HB 255 added a compliance component to O.C.G.A. § 15-24-2, requiring protocol committees to submit their protocol by December 31 of each year to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Once your committee members and Chief Judge have signed the protocol, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Step Six: Protocol-Based Training
The SART should also organize and develop a protocol-based training program designed to accomplish two objectives:
- to ensure that all personnel from each applicable agency are aware of how the protocol affects each of their positions; and
- to ensure that personnel affected by the protocol have the necessary expertise to carry out their responsibilities.
The training curriculum should be interdisciplinary, which reflects the character of the protocol. Individuals from various agencies who will be working together to respond to reports of sexual assault should begin their relationships by training together. This means that all “first responders” from law enforcement, sexual assault crisis centers, and medical facilities should be trained together to address their specific roles, but to also understand the roles of other professionals.
Step Seven: Monitoring Protocol Implementation
The SART has the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of its protocol. Monitoring enables your SART to know how well the implementation process is progressing, whether there are problems, and the nature of any problems being experienced. This information is useful for keeping the project operating as intended.
Monitoring may be done through collection of data from program sites or through actual observation by a monitoring team, or a combination of both. The SART should appoint a monitoring team that would be responsible for developing a data collection form, as well as performing on-site monitoring. The committee is responsible for reporting its findings to the SART and the agencies they monitor. This process is intended to assist with the implementation of the protocol.
As they perform their tasks, the monitoring team should look for strengths as well as weaknesses. The strengths should receive at least as much attention as the weaknesses in the report. When a problem is identified, the team should attempt to identify a probable cause and suggest solutions. Monitoring is intended to be supportive of the agency’s efforts and not intended to put the agency in a bad light.
Step Eight: Protocol Evaluation
Protocol evaluation is the eighth step in this cyclical process. This step is closely related to the previous step of monitoring, as they both help determine how effective the protocol is at meeting victims’ needs.
The SART needs to appoint an evaluation committee, which will collaborate with the monitoring committee on data collected and utilized. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide programs with information useful to them for guided decision making. The evaluation design and data analysis should meet their needs. The SART needs to formulate a work plan that includes the following:
- Who will collect the data?
- When will the data be collected?
- How will the data be collected?
- How will the data be verified?
- How will the data be analyzed?
Upon completion of the evaluation data collection, the committee will then submit an evaluation report outline to the SART. This allows for further decision-making in regards to how well the program in functioning for the community as a whole.
Completing this eighth step by no means infers that the process is finished. This should be a cyclical process that will consistently be changed and monitored to meet the ever-changing needs of victims and the system.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is able to offer additional help through consultations and presentations. If you are in need of more assistance in beginning a SART Team in your area, or have questions about creating a protocol, please email email@example.com