The victims in the 93 reported sexual assault crimes in Washtenaw County this year have a new program to aid their healing process. They will be attended to by the newly implemented Washtenaw County Sexual Assault Response Team , which was founded by the Washtenaw County Coalition on Gender Violence and Safety. The SART program, which has been in effect since Aug. 1, has coordinated with St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and the University of Michigan Hospital to treat over 40 women.
One of the main benefits of this innovative program has been the of institution of improved communication between law enforcement officials, nurses and sexual assault awareness advocates. When a victim reports a crime to local law enforcement authorities, they are immediately escorted to one of the two hospitals which has a SART nurse prepared to consult with the victim in a private and comfortable environment. Instead of a traditional emergency room setting, this program offers one-on-one care with a specially trained nurse.
The care for victims does not end after the hospital visit. The Ann Arbor Police Department now has established specially trained detectives to handle the sexual assault cases. The SART team has been most effective because of its consistency across the county: whenever a sexual assault is reported, all 11 law enforcement agencies in Washtenaw County are required to call the SART Line. If a victim arrives directly at the hospital, the hospital team contacts the SART Line in order to launch the team. The victim then receives counseling at the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, and is paired with an attorney who processes the case.
The number of reported sexual assault cases is disturbingly low in comparison to the actual number of incidents. Since previous process had been cumbersome and deemed humiliating, women often do not report the assaults. SART has improved the relationship between victims and the agencies available to help. Information is gathered and processed at a more rapid speed, thus improving chances of a successful prosecution.
Officials hope that as the SART program’s response to sexual assault victims modifies the reputation of the process, women will willingly report the crimes. The taboo attached to rape victims is reprehensible and previous responses to sexual assault crimes only augmented the humiliation of the crime. With the establishment of programs such as SART, sexual assault victims will be able to report the crimes in a more comfortable environment, which will only alleviate many of the stigmas and pain of the terrible ordeal of sexual assault.