Build Your SART
This section of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Toolkit explores building a SART, including community readiness, building relationships, and planning for success. SARTs may not be right for every community, or they may be right in the future but not the present. Anyone seeking to develop or champion a SART should carefully consider the ability of the agencies and the community to support or sustain a SART.
There is no one path to forming a SART. Often there is one person, or group of people, referred to as a “SART champion.” These champions ignite a spark that encourages others to come together and improve the community-wide response to sexual assault. This SART champion could be from any discipline. Meetings might start between representatives of two disciplines who realize they would be more effective with increased collaboration among additional disciplines. SARTs might form on the heels of numerous meetings with false starts when a champion recognizes the need for ongoing communication and follow-up.
You may be your SART’s champion. Whatever the spark in your community, this chapter outlines essential phases of SART formation. While there is no order prescribed, missing any step can lead to difficulties down the road. SARTs in formation might use this section as a roadmap, while SARTs in revival or readjustment might revisit these steps to determine what building blocks they missed.
Form a Planning Team
One step to forming your SART is building a planning team to bring together agencies and organizations that respond to sexual assault or survivors of sexual assault. Planning teams may be small and informal or large and formal. Ideally, planning teams include agencies that are part of larger systems, culturally responsive agencies, and agencies that have the authority to change systems.  SARTs are strongest when individuals from several agencies are willing to commit the time and effort required to form a team and lead interagency sexual assault responders through the planning process. SARTs should consider members’ ability or willingness to attend meetings and perform subsequent SART-related duties. 
Planners should be aware it can take years of work for the group to become an effective team. Such was the case of the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Collaborative, where advocacy, law enforcement, and prosecution members worked for three years to guarantee SAFE participation at the hospital level.  The Value of Persistence describes the process of developing a SART in the U.S. Virgin Islands that included multiple false starts.
Many successful SARTs have years of working together, false starts, challenges, and opportunities that influence the relationship-building necessary for a group to become an effective team. SARTs must be built on a foundation of respect, understanding, and trust, which can be cultivated into a long-term sense of ownership for the SART's plans and purposes.
When forming a planning team, it is important to know which service providers and agencies may have already been engaged in discussions to start a SART. Many communities have had a SART, both for short and long periods of time, or have struggled to form a SART. Learning from those who have attempted to develop a SART in your community in the past could provide valuable insight necessary to begin the work again. Planners could work with a technical assistance provider to make a list of questions to ensure all useful information is gathered during these conversations. These conversations are relationship-building opportunities.
Is My Community Ready for a SART?
While SARTs are considered best practice as a response to sexual assault, it is essential your community assess its readiness for a SART and ensure that specific conditions are present. Potential stakeholders in the SART can conduct a community needs assessment; understanding the community’s readiness will allow the planning team to tailor their strategy to form a group that your community is willing to accept and support. This may include gauging the community’s perception of sexual assault  to understand what myths, misconceptions, or barriers are present.
If a community believes in a specific myth, a regular pattern of offense is normalized, prominent individuals partake in sexual abuse, or the community is healing from a recent high-profile case, part of forming the SART may be first addressing those issues with the community and potential SART members. SARTs may well receive the necessary buy-in by providing leadership and clear messaging during difficult circumstances.
Many organizers experience false starts when first trying to establish a team. In other communities, SARTs are a natural outcome of increased informal collaboration between stakeholders who experience the benefits of improved relationships and larger systems improvement. Assessing readiness will allow those interested in a SART to focus their efforts where they are most useful.
Defining Vision, Mission, and Goals
Investing the time to clearly lay out a collective vision, mission, and goals improves clarity of purpose. Your SART’s ability to meet sexual assault victims’ needs, through all interactions with all systems involved, is highly dependent on having representatives from each system come together to develop common goals. Although your plans for creating a SART may start with inspiration from an individual, agency, or small group, the development of a team is ideally a collaborative process with core agencies (advocacy programs, law enforcement agencies, sexual assault forensic medical examiner programs, crime labs, and prosecution) serving as equal planning partners.
Members may come together with big goals, hopes, and dreams of creating a victim-centered system but can burn out before those dreams become reality. SARTs that are willing to put in time at the outset, building and planning for sustainability, are more likely to last beyond the initial spark of inspiration.
An Agency's Potential SART Members
Potential members should review your agency’s willingness and ability to participate on a SART, including its policies, procedures, and best practices. In preparing to represent an agency and discipline at SART meetings, potential members should seek to understand your individual and agency competency around sexual assault. Individual members or agencies who are experts in their discipline but are not as familiar with sexual assault cases can consult technical assistance providers for more information about SART roles and responsibilities from a discipline-specific perspective. Individuals or agencies can also contact other potential SART members as resources.
In a community with low reports of sexual assault or low prosecution rates, an individual member or agency may not have specific experience with sexual assault. SARTs are intended to increase expertise and competency for all members, especially in cases where individual members or agencies seek to improve their specific competency around sexual assault. Agencies may have concerns about participation that need to be addressed before joining a team.
Support of Local Leaders
The support of appointed or elected leaders and influential community members is essential to your SART’s success. Each member agency enters into an interagency agreement, committing to follow an agreed-upon protocol for the handling of sexual assault cases across disciplines and systems. It is not unusual for the momentum to start a SART to come from a front-line worker. However, for sustainability, an agency’s leadership must commit to working collaboratively on sexual assault cases.
Current Services for Victims
Planning members should assess victims’ services already present and services that may be lacking. Many SARTs will begin with little or no funding. Utilizing or improving upon already existing services is more cost effective than attempting to create or re-create everything from scratch. Including victims' voices in meaningful ways during the early planning stages will help ensure that your SART's design is culturally responsive, practical, and relevant to victims' needs and community safety concerns.
Other considerations for assessing the availability, quantity, and quality of services in your community can be explored through the following questions:
- What have victims identified as needs or unmet needs?
- Are services accessible for individuals with disabilities?
- Are services available for LGBTQ individuals?
- Are ethnic minority groups well served?
- Are services equally accessible for victims residing in urban and rural areas?
- Are there institutional and community services available for victims living on college campuses, reservations or military installations?
- Is there a coordinated response for undocumented victims?
- Are services provided for victims with limited English proficiency?
For more information on gathering agency or program data, see the Community Needs Assessment section of the SART Toolkit.
Current Resources Available to the Team
Resources are anything the planning team can use to create and sustain a SART. Resources vary from community to community, as do strengths and challenges. The planning team should assess resources that are available to them as well as resources they need and do not currently have, such as —
- people: Will the SART have staff or will it be run with volunteers from member agencies? How many people or people-hours is each agency willing to commit to SART creation and on-going work?
- money: Identify and develop funding strategies. Will member agencies financially support the SART or will it seek grants, donations, or other fundraising opportunities?
- equipment: What is available to the SART? Computers, files, data storage, etc.?
- facilities: Where will the SART meet? If there is to be staff, where will the staff have office space?
Many individuals can be instrumental in cultivating a SART. For example, the team concept could start when a —
- victim writes a letter to the editor of a local newspaper appealing to community leaders to provide a better response to sexual assault;
- director of a rape crisis and recovery center forms a planning group to determine ways to provide more comprehensive responses to victims, whether or not they report the crimes;
- decision-maker from law enforcement, wanting to improve criminal investigations, contacts a rape recovery center to coordinate immediate advocacy support following a report;
- hospital administrator decides to form a multidisciplinary ad hoc committee to study the feasibility of establishing a hospital-based program for sexual assault patients;
- health care professional, recently trained and certified as a sexual assault forensic examiner, contacts core responders to establish a coordinated multidisciplinary response;
- military sexual assault response coordinator contacts nearby hospital administrators to develop a collaborative plan ensuring that active duty personnel who appear at civilian hospitals maintain their restrictive reporting options;
- campus health service official contacts several community-based organizations to develop a coordinated response, regardless of where students first seek assistance;
- domestic violence shelter director contacts a rape crisis agency about sharing administrative office space and developing a single site for the forensic medical response to domestic and sexual violence;
- tribal coalition leader contacts a rape crisis center to coordinate services for American Indian victims, regardless of where they first seek services.
Define the SART's Jurisdiction
As a voluntary association of community and government agency employees, a SART’s geographic service area is usually set by the individual members’ jurisdiction or catchment areas. "Jurisdiction" is a legal term that refers to the power or authority to make decisions over a person, location, or subject matter. Jurisdiction for government actors is usually set out in state statutes and is often, but not always, based on geographic boundaries. "Catchment area" is a term often used by social service agencies to describe their service areas.
A city police department’s jurisdiction to exercise its law enforcement powers is generally limited to the city’s geographic boundary. Similarly, a court’s authority to hear and decide cases is limited to certain geographic areas. Understanding jurisdiction is essential for SARTs, as service providers are likely to be in overlapping but inconsistent geographic areas.
SARTs must also clearly understand their service area. Your SART may be able to define its jurisdiction based on the geographic areas of service of individual members, unless determined by state statue. SARTs may include multiple law enforcement agencies, community-based crisis centers, multiple courts and hospitals, and in this way, a SART’s jurisdiction may be a local community, state, territory, tribal land, campus, military installation, national park, or multi-city, multi-county, multi-state, or multi-SART region.
Establishing your SART’s jurisdiction does not indicate legal authority to act in that area, but rather an intention to develop consistent, victim-centered responses to sexual assault across the government and non-government agencies that cover that area.
Your SART must then develop an understanding of how to work within your service area, especially when the circumstances of a sexual assault involve multiple jurisdictions or concurrent jurisdictions. Clearly establishing who from the team should respond to reports of an acute sexual assault is essential to ensure victims receive immediate services. Uncertainty about an appropriate SART response can lead to delays in services for victims and stalled criminal investigations.
Your SART can proactively address complex issues before they arise by: assessing state laws; creating local and regional multidisciplinary protocols, guidelines, and memorandums of understanding (MOUs); and establishing regional partnerships with medical, legal, and advocacy agencies that victims may contact. The Victim Rights Law Center provides Jurisdiction-Specific Guidelines: Privacy Laws Impacting Survivors, which provides a starting point for researching common privacy issues as your SART establishes its jurisdictions and how agencies will work together.
Performing a community assessment allows your SART to anticipate specific needs of your community and understand the unique service areas for each potential member on a SART. During a community assessment, SARTs may also recognize the need to adjust their jurisdiction, such as reducing the geographic area if a neighboring community has a SART, is expanding, or if a neighboring SART expresses interest in merging. SARTs may also recognize that a large part of their law enforcement’s jurisdiction contains a hospital or crisis center that is not a member of the SART and invite or include those agencies in SART meetings.
SARTs may also identify resources slightly outside of their initial jurisdiction that could enhance services to victims, or an important new SART member may be identified. Responding to these findings may increase a SART’s service area and expand victims’ access to services.
When defining jurisdiction, SARTs can consider the sources of current reports as well as where sexual assaults are most likely occurring. What are the specific difficulties for victims seeking to report sexual assault? SARTs should understand the challenges victims may encounter when navigating multiple service areas, identify jurisdictional concerns for interagency collaborators, and assess the legal considerations for incorporating tribal, local, state, and federal regulations into a SART model.
Regardless of the jurisdiction's geographical size and makeup, it is important to consider all its law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and community advocacy programs, in order to coordinate a response among them.
Rural jurisdictions may be challenged by geographic isolation, limited access to services, the need to travel large distances for a single response, minimal funding for specialized services, privacy concerns for victims, and widespread economic depression.
If a region has limited resources, you may want to identify agencies and facilities in neighboring areas with which you can join to develop a regional response, or consider partnering with other victim service organizations in the area. For example, a shelter for battered women with spare office space might be temporarily designated for sexual assault forensic exams.
A survivor’s ability to travel might be particularly problematic in rural areas. Rural hospitals may not have trained medical-forensic examiners, leaving delivery of the exam to emergency room staff. In those circumstances, a hospital may prefer to offer a referral to another facility that has a SAFE on staff, but that facility can be a considerable distance away, even in another state. In these situations, SARTs must consider how to address transportation issues for victims, as well as the multi-jurisdictional issues raised in the following sections.
Urban SARTs may need to coordinate services among incorporated and unincorporated portions of a city, determine how to establish partnerships with agencies that have limited free time due to high caseloads, work to coordinate services among multiple service providers, or streamline the SART activation process. Sexual assaults may also occur in an area other than where the victim reports the assault, such as a victim who lives in a suburb but is sexually assaulted in a nearby city. Anticipating assaults and reports over multiple criminal justice system jurisdictions will help ensure proper investigation and referral of cases for prosecution will occur.
The SART of Brevard County, Florida provides a good example of how to address jurisdictional issues. The SART streamlined its services through an agreement with the Salvation Army, which is the designated domestic violence shelter. The Salvation Army offered space at its new facility for performing medical forensic exams for victims countywide. Previously, these exams had been performed at six busy hospital emergency departments in the county. To ensure proper oversight, the local public health department agreed to provide a medical director for the new exam facility.
Tribal nations’ SARTs continue to see challenges specific to jurisdiction. SARTs can encourage collaboration between federal, state, and tribal responders to ensure that American Indian/Alaskan Native victims receive comprehensive, victim-centered, culturally relevant response and services.  For a more through discussion of Tribal Jurisdiction please see the Tribal Jurisdiction section in the American Indians and Alaskan Natives section of the SART Toolkit.
Sexual assaults will occur that require SARTs to work with agencies beyond their SART membership. SARTs with multi-jurisdictional concerns need to develop cross-jurisdictional guidelines to ensure a consistent response among medical responders, legal responders, and advocates, regardless of where victims first seek services. Failure to identify neighbors and understand their roles and responsibilities as well as relay information about your SART’s services could lead to gaps in service delivery for victims.
In cases of multi-state jurisdiction, federal jurisdiction, or when working with agencies that are not part of your SART, members must gather information about state statutes, health department regulations, and federal grant certifications within each jurisdiction to ensure the SART's activities and services comply. SARTs should also create protocols or guidelines that honor each state's laws during interstate collaborations. Protocols, working agreements, and MOUs between jurisdictions help ensure that services will be available immediately when victims contact any given agency or organization.
SARTs likely to engage in multi-jurisdictional considerations —
- serve American Indian/Alaskan Native victims or border tribal lands,
- are within rural jurisdictions or border other states,
- serve urban areas where the location of a crime and where it is reported cross jurisdictions,
- include travel hubs, such as airports and train stations. See Sexual Assault of Americans Overseas for more information,
- serve victims in the military and may need to coordinate their response between local and military authorities and health care practitioners,
- collaborate with incarceration facilities within their jurisdiction, especially if some of the services available to incarcerated individuals (such as the medical forensic exam or advocacy services) are performed outside the facility or SART members deliver services within the facility,
- serve campuses, integrating the sexual assault responses of campus security, local law enforcement, community and campus-based advocacy as well as health care providers (methods of collaboration depend on the circumstances of the crime, location, and existing campus responses), or
- serve victims who seek help at a hospital outside the jurisdiction where the crime took place (SARTs with hospitals in their jurisdiction should build relationships with agencies — including advocacy, law enforcement, and victims compensation — in locations where the crimes are occurring).
When developing your protocol or guidelines, consider the following:
- The privileged communications statutes in each jurisdiction that address statements made by people within protected relationships (e.g., husband and wife; attorney and client) that the law shelters from forced disclosure on the witness stand. 
- Removing any additional barriers victims may face in cases of multi-jurisdictional crimes.
- The acute response of team members, specifically the initial conversation with law enforcement when the victim is reporting the case.
- Who will do the initial victim statement?
- Can an interview conducted by one jurisdiction be permissible in another jurisdiction?
- What is the most trauma-informed, victim-centered way of reporting to law enforcement in the appropriate jurisdiction, without requiring victims to speak to several people, recount their experience multiple times, or travel long distances?
- Are there any laws that might prevent the SART from sharing information — with informed consent of the victim — outside their jurisdiction?
- How payment for forensic medical exams will be handled when victims are transported to another state for exams.
- What the activation process is for advocates and health care professionals when victims use interjurisdictional services (e.g., military victims using civilian facilities, American Indian victims using community-based and tribal services, students accessing campus and non-campus assistance).
- Regionally, what agencies and organizations can respond when victims disclose sexual assault?
- What options are available for victims who are not pursuing a criminal justice response but who still want to hold the offender accountable?
- Whether all law enforcement departments use the same crime lab.
- What Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits (SAKs) are used in other jurisdictions?
- Some hospitals that see victims from multiple jurisdictions store kits from each jurisdiction.
- Where the SAK will be processed and how it will be transferred to that location.
- Do the crime labs have the ability or appropriate equipment to process samples from other jurisdictions?
- What interagency agreements are needed?
- What are the purposes of the agreements?
- How will the staff at each agency be educated on the agreements?
- How often will they be reviewed?
- What mechanisms of buy-in and accountability exist?
- What training will new employees receive?
One example of a successful multi-jurisdictional SART is the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center, which borders a tristate area that includes eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and western Tennessee. Victims who are sexually assaulted in regions bordering Memphis are transported to the center, which is a designated site for sexual assault medical forensic exams. Center advocates are informed of each state's victims' rights laws, and forensic nurses travel between states to testify as experts or provide information on the forensic evidence collected.
Despite the jurisdictional lines, differences in state laws and statutes, and distances between agencies, victims receive continuity of care from the first call for help to the offenders' sentencing because of this multi-state collaboration. 
Community Needs Assessment
In this section, the SART Toolkit provides guidelines for processes that SARTs can use to understand the needs and strengths of a community to begin building a culturally responsive local plan for reducing, preventing, and responding to reports of sexual violence.
These processes include —
- gathering data to create a community profile, and
- facilitating focus groups or listening forums with —
- survivors, and
- community members.
Links to additional resources will be provided to assist SARTs in conducting other needs assessment activities, such as —
- using surveys,
- conducting individual interviews,
- analyzing data, and
- creating recommendations and a final report.
Why Perform a Needs Assessment with Professionals, Survivors, and Community Members?
Story 4: Assessing the Victim/Survivor Experience by Sexual Violence Justice Institute at Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 2011. Retrieved from LINK.
Community needs assessments enable SARTs to listen to and learn from the communities they serve. Gathering information from multiple sources ensures all voices and experiences are considered in decision making. This includes survivors who receive services and those who do not, professionals who provide services, and community members who provide services in addition to, instead of, or in collaboration with professionals.
Most often, service providers assess community needs by gathering data from and talking with other professionals. Although useful, this only provides insight into people seeking formal services. This is problematic in sexual assault as only 5 percent to 20 percent of victims report to law enforcement, and the majority do not seek mental health services or medical care. 
A community needs assessment can access broader demographics, especially members of marginalized groups: men, people of color, persons who identify as LGBTQ, people with mental illness, people with substance abuse disorders, incarcerated people, teens, and members of faith communities that strictly prohibit dating or sex among unmarried people.
If done well, assessment activities can build trust and knowledge within a team, and connections between service providers and community members. Assessment activities have the potential to —
- strengthen understanding of the services provided by both SART members and non-SART members;
- hear from professionals who are not active SART members, but see survivors and offenders in their client populations;
- identify professionals, community members, and civic and faith leaders who can identify survivors, connect them with services and provide ongoing support;
- identify community members to partner with your SART in hosting community education and awareness events;
- bring in voices of diverse populations to help plan for and implement change and evaluate progress;
- identify gaps in services and unmet community needs;
- design prevention and intervention efforts that build upon community assets; and
- inform program evaluation efforts.
Involving survivors and community members in the assessment process can help establish trust and support between your SART and the community. Collaborating with community members for this assessment values the voices, experiences, and leadership of people whom most SART members might never hear from in your day-to-day work.  By listening, learning, and following up with the needs and concerns addressed through assessment, your SART can show its commitment to addressing sexual assault in the community you serve.
Planning for a Community Needs Assessment
Each step of the needs assessment process holds the potential to gather information while strengthening your SART's ability to collaborate and connect with the community. To achieve this, your SART will need to consider —
- hosting strategic and inclusive conversations at all points of the process to address concerns and build support for change with multiple stakeholders;
- establishing clear guidelines about data gathering and data sharing activities and hold anyone who disregards these guidelines accountable;
- capitalize on every opportunity to build cross-systems relationships among service providers; and
- take advantage of every opportunity to introduce community members and survivors to service providers.
Hiring a Consultant
Conducting a needs assessment may require the expertise of an outside consultant for such tasks as selecting needs assessment processes, developing surveys, hosting focus groups, analyzing data, or writing a final report. Other tasks, such as scheduling groups, managing logistics, paperwork preparations, note taking, etc., may require staff time.
Consultants may be seen as a neutral, unbiased party and demonstrate to the community that your SART is making an investment in a fair process.
Whenever possible, SARTs can pair consultants, volunteers, or interns with service providers to enhance the skill and understanding of the local professionals, capitalize on relationship growth across systems and within communities, and respond to the needs of participants who may disclose abuse or violence.
Community Needs Assessment Plan
Having a written plan for your community needs assessment is essential to success. This will assist your SART in organizing efforts to gather and understand information from many sources while reducing the likelihood that major obstacles will unexpectedly surface. When forming the needs assessment plan, you should keep the points described below in mind.
Related to the Assessment Plan
- Define the “community.”
- Clarify what your SART wants to know and why.
- Define the types of sexual violence your SART wishes to know more about.
- Select needs assessment processes that are achievable and will gather the information needed. Include a process for gathering information from survivors and community members, as agency data will only inform you about people seeking services, people on waitlists, and people who the program was unable to serve.
- Create a work plan with tasks and timelines to organize the work.
- Clarify how data will be collected, analyzed, reviewed, and used in a final product.
- Assess local support. Do administration and decision makers at home organizations agree to share information and be receptive to suggestions for systems change that may result as part of the assessment? How will top executives and decision makers be informed about the progress of the assessment?
In newly formed collaborations or in SARTs that are new to assessment, it is imperative that your members discuss and agree on each step of the process to define what data will be gathered, how it will be analyzed, written and reviewed, how it will be shared with others, and address any concerns that may be present at this stage.
Information Related to Victim Rights and Safety
- Is information about victim rights and safety shared individually with participants prior to and at the beginning of each community assessment activity?
- Are participants provided an opportunity to ask questions?
- Who is client information being shared with? Is this necessary?
- Does each client know exactly what will happen with their information? Did clients voluntarily and knowingly sign time-limited releases of information, if necessary?
- If someone discloses current abuse or violence, does each team member know how to respond during the needs assessment, assess for safety issues, and connect the individual with someone who can follow up or provide additional services, as deemed appropriate by the individual?
- Are survivors, community members, and professionals informed of the limits to confidentiality while participating in assessment activities?
- Did survivors or community members give you their informed, written permission to use memorable quotes they may have shared in assessment activities? Were survivors or community members provided the opportunity to choose to include their name with quotes or contribute quotes anonymously?
- Did survivors or community members give you their informed, written permission to include them in photos related to publicity or reports?
- Is identifying client information appropriately redacted from reports or documents being reviewed?
- Is technology being used during the assessment activity, such as to record the session? Is there a plan to safely transport, store, and dispose of information contained on technology devices in a way that does not compromise victim safety?
- Are victims informed of how to keep themselves emotionally safe during community needs assessment activities? Do they know where they can smoke, where bathrooms are located, that they can leave at any time, that someone is available to talk to them, or that they can sit by themselves, as needed? Is your team prepared to provide support to participants in these activities?
Information Related to the Team
- Who will serve as the coordinator?
- Who will conduct assessment activities? What skills do they have? What skills do they lack?
- Do team members represent the diversity of community and the range of service providers?
- When discussing information gathered in assessment activities, is the team able to ask questions and disagree respectfully? They must be able to present and hear different points of view throughout the needs assessment process. Is there a skilled and respected person who might facilitate these discussions if needed?
- Is there a process in place that informs team members what to do if they discover something urgent or life-threatening during the assessment process?
- Is there a process that informs team members what to do if they hear positive or negative feedback regarding a specific individual or response?
- Prior to the community needs assessment activities, did the team meet with the consultant, coordinator, or facilitator to discuss the activities, expectations, and their own roles?
- Is there a process for team members to remove themselves from the activity, either for an emergency or because they are having a reaction to something shared?
Information Related to Data Collection and Analysis
- Who needs to approve the sharing of data?
- How will data be collected? Stored? Shared? Accessed?
- Is it necessary to include identifying information with the data? If unnecessary, it is best practice to remove potentially identifying information as early and often as possible so as not to inadvertently share information.
- How is data defined and collected within agencies or systems?
- Understanding each agency’s or program’s data definitions is essential to the community needs assessment process.
- If data collection will continue over time, is there a way to align data systems so that different agencies or programs are using some of the same terms or measures?
- Example: If all agencies collect age information by entering the current age of the person, you can talk about the clients served more easily than if the agencies use different age ranges.
- Is there a way to ensure there is not duplication of data on persons receiving services while still protecting the privacy of clients? Without the ability to de-duplicate client data, it is impossible to know if many systems are serving the same people or if they are serving very different groups of people.
- Who has the skill to analyze the data? How will this be done?
Information Related to the Assessment Plan and Summary or Final Report
- Who needs to be involved in writing the Assessment Plan and approving it?
- Who needs to be involved in writing a summary or final report? In approving it?
- What information will the summary or final report include? Will recommendations for change be included or come later as part of strategic planning?
- How will the data be presented?
- Who will the data be shared with and at what time?
- How will the final report or summary be shared?
Community Assessment Resources
Listening to Our Communities: Tools for Measurement (PDF, 4 pages)
NSVRC developed this resource that provides a list of tools, including advantages and disadvantages.
Readiness Assessment Survey (PDF, 4 pages)
SARTs can use this assessment from the Sexual Violence Justice Institute at Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault to determine whether they are ready to collaborate.
Needs Assessment Guidelines
The guidelines below may aid in strengthening the team’s ability to collaborate and form trusting relationships with diverse groups of community residents during the assessment process. Consider copying the following guidelines to discuss and adapt to meet your needs with the SART and members of the assessment team:
- Talk to many people. You are gathering data that will inform prevention, intervention and evaluation plans in the future. The insights, assets, networks, and support of many different people are needed.
- Educate people about sexual assault and share information regarding available services. Expect a range of ideas, opinions, and awareness levels among professionals and community leaders and members.
- Clarify the level of confidentiality you hold and your requirements as a mandated reporter. Practice explaining these limits in a few sentences.
- Be prepared to respond to disclosures . Violence and abuse come in many forms. Be prepared for this so that you, or someone on the assessment team, can listen with compassion, assess for the safety issues of the person, and connect with appropriate resources if indicated.
- When gathering information about sexual violence from survivors or community members, ask about anything that is unclear. If someone uses a word or term you do not understand, ask them to clarify it. Do not guess or make assumptions.
- When meeting with community members and survivors, anticipate that they may want to do something to improve the community response for sexual assault victims. Have a list of volunteer opportunities to share or a hotline prepared to take their calls and direct them. Consider asking them if they will meet with your SART to weigh in on improvements the SART will be making. Ask them to continue educating your SART about the needs of survivors and their families and ways to serve diverse groups of people.
- When gathering information specific to sexual violence from service providers, ask for clarification on anything that is unclear or specific to that organization or program. Whom did they serve and whom were they unable to serve? For each data source, it is extremely important to understand their definitions of their terms and data.
Example: If a service provider says they served 100 people, what does that mean? When they use the word “served,” how do they define this? And who were the 100 people? Adults, teens, or children? What are their age ranges for adults, teens, and children?
- When gathering police or prosecution data, it is critical to understand how they define their data on initial reports, arrests, and prosecutions involving sexual violence. It is often difficult for them to report on sexual violence as this form of criminal behavior may be labeled in many ways. This data is often available by ZIP code or police district, allowing you to gain insights into neighborhoods within a community.
If examining neighborhood-level police data, consider how police practices, community conditions, and beliefs about sexual assault may impact the data. Example: Few reports of sexual assault in some neighborhoods may reflect the residents’ lack of trust in seeking help from law enforcement rather than a lack of sexual violence occurrences. High rates of reporting may reflect higher levels of trust in law enforcement, the presence of strong advocacy, or cultural accessibility of rape crisis centers.
- If people involved in assessment activities see or hear information that is concerning about a professional, agency, or response, do not jump to conclusions or make quick judgments about it. Avoid blaming or gossiping. Identify a person and process for dealing with anything that needs immediate attention and a process for people to debrief after assessment activities.
The Community Profile: Existing Demographic + Agency Data
An important first step in many needs assessments is gathering existing demographic and agency data to create a community profile. This report or profile describes the locale and its residents and consolidates information on sexual violence services. Gathering data about both topics may or may not be a simple, straightforward task. If these reports do not exist, it is important to develop them. If your community has existing demographic profiles or community reports on sexual violence, it may be easy to add information from a few additional resources to create a descriptive picture of the community. Many SARTs or service providers have created these for grant applications.
Consider gathering data so that it might serve many purposes. Review state and federal funding requirements to see what types of information are required in their proposals. Is this information that can be gathered during the needs assessment process? As ongoing evaluation?
It may be helpful to gather demographic and agency data using some of the same definitions found in state and federal surveys so that local information can be compared to other jurisdictions. Consider using definitions for race, gender, and forms of violence from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which contains state information for some areas.
Gathering Demographic Data
Basic demographic data may include information about —
- who lives here? What is known about diverse groups of people? (Races, cultures, ages, gender orientations, languages spoken, household size, and numbers of children in families.)
- who works here on a regular basis? Do workers live in the community or do a large number of them commute in? What demographic data do we have about them?
- who lives or works here for a limited time? Are people coming to the area to work on special projects, attend a local college, or assist with seasonal jobs such as agriculture or tourism?
- are any groups of people not included in traditional sources of demographic data? Who are they?
- is information available by zip code? Would it be helpful to know neighborhood data?
- are there any trends occurring in gains or losses of different groups of people?
This website provides vital information on a yearly basis about jobs and occupations, educational attainment, veterans, whether people own or rent their home, and other topics.
This article explains “megaregions,” commuting patterns that connect multiple areas.
This survey provides national and some state information on domestic and sexual violence.
QuickFacts provides statistics for all states, counties, and cities and towns with populations of 5,000 or more.
Gathering Agency or Program Data
Agency data may provide insights into three different groups of people: those who received services, those who sought services but were unable to be assisted, and people who did not seek services. Some programs track reasons why people sought services and were unable to be served. Knowing this may help to identify unmet needs and obstacles to accessing services to improve the community’s sexual assault response.
Common reasons for being unable to serve include —
- victims do not meet eligibility or statutory requirements.
- program rules are not acceptable to victims.
- services offered are not appropriate for victims.
- victims have transportation problems.
- services could pose conflicts of interest.
- agencies have inadequate language capacity (including sign language).
- victims are geographically isolated.
Additionally, faith groups and agencies serving diverse groups of people may know about sexual violence for which few survivors seek services. Consider including them in focus groups or listening forums, interviews, and other assessment activities.
Needs assessment information can be gathered for the development of a single community profile or report, and it can form the basis for the development of data collection that can be collected and analyzed periodically to evaluate the impact of policies, programs, and initiatives over time.
To understand the scope of sexual assault services in your jurisdiction, request agency data from:
- rape crisis centers,
- hotlines and Emergency Communication Centers,
- law enforcement,
- prosecution and court systems,
- hospitals and other health care facilities,
- institutional settings (e.g., campuses, military facilities, correctional facilities),
- culturally specific organizations,
- elder services and teen centers,
- substance abuse and mental health treatment centers, and
- domestic violence programs.
Sharing data about clients and services provided can be a difficult task within your SART and when reaching out to community service providers who may not be members of your SART. There can be spoken and unspoken concerns about what types of data will be collected and how it will be used. If not addressed, these concerns can block or limit your SART’s ability to gather data and understand existing services. Explaining the needs assessment plan and asking about their concerns may be helpful to ease fears, as could modifying the plan to address their concerns.
Many assessment challenges can be avoided or minimized by following the guidelines above and having a community needs assessment plan in place.
When requesting agency information —
- provide programs with a list of the data points requested. For more information, see the Evaluation section of the SART Toolkit. Lists of possible data points and potential pieces of data are listed by discipline.
- provide a definition of the requested data points.
- ask for the agency’s definition of data points.
- Example: Your SART and the agency or program may define “sexual assault” in very different ways.
- clarify the timeframe for the data needed. Ask for data from specific beginning and end dates.
- Asking for monthly data may be difficult for programs to gather, but will allow the SART to analyze information from agencies that collect it according to fiscal or calendar years.
Facilitating a Focus Group or Listening Forum
This section of the SART Toolkit will offer guidelines on hosting focus groups or listening forums with victims and community members.
What term to use? Refer to this process with a word or phrase that fits your purpose and community. “Focus group” suggests a research study or fits a population that understands and functions well within a formal structure.
“Listening forum” may be a better choice when meeting with victims or community members where your primary goal is to hear from people. A listening forum is a facilitated discussion based on a list of prepared questions. Unlike a focus group, the listening forum’s discussion may get into unexpected areas as participants present information that was not anticipated. It is an opportunity to learn things that you did not know you needed to know.
Listening forums with survivors or community members are beneficial when you —
- want a deeper understanding of the attitudes, knowledge, or perspectives held by diverse groups of people,
- have the ability and opportunity to bring several (at least 3) groups of 6 to 10 people together,
- invest the time and resources needed to recruit participants, host several events, and analyze the qualitative data derived from the discussions, and
- wish to develop effective services and supports for unserved or underserved survivors.
Listening to Community Members
As one element of a community needs assessment, listening forums have the potential to help communities determine a course of action once a problem or issue has been identified or to uncover problems or issues that may not be known or understood.  Listening forums and focus groups have similar processes but different outcomes; where focus groups are research-based, listening lessons are facilitated with more flexibility in response to the group’s needs.
Community members may or may not have a personal experience with sexual assault. Some may be survivors. Some may be family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers of a survivor. Consider following and adapting the general guidelines listed below to provide safety and confidentiality with this group of people.
Listening to Survivors
Talking with survivors is an essential piece of a community needs assessment. It offers the victim feedback on their experience in receiving services, support to identify obstacles to victim accessing service, and notes ways to improve the local sexual assault response. These forums can empower survivors as they see a way to help others. Survivors may benefit from seeing that sexual assault happens to others, reducing any sense of shame, isolation, and internal blame.
Adapting the general guidelines below will increase the likelihood that these forums will be a positive experience for survivors and professionals. Supporting survivors in these discussions is the first priority.
Facilitation Guidelines for Listening Forums with Survivors and Community Members
When preparing for, conducting, and debriefing from a listening forum with survivors or community members, consider the following concerns:
- Confidentiality: Talk about any limits to confidentiality when you invite people to participate, when the group convenes, and if you sense that someone may disclose something that requires mandated reporting. Post this information on a wall where it can be easily seen. Warn against the possibility of someone making a disclosure, thinking that what is said in the focus group is private, when facilitators must contact the authorities and report the disclosure. This would erode the trust between service providers and survivors or community members.
- Benefits and risks to participating in a listening session. Participants should be fully informed of the risks and benefits to being in a listening forum. Written consent forms clearly explaining this should be included in any information provided with the invitation to attend. View a sample consent form from Praxis International. 
- The purpose of the listening session . It is important to state clearly the reason the session is being held and role of the advocate. The following statements are “purpose statement” examples:
- With victims: “Thank you for joining us today. We are here to talk with you about your help-seeking efforts and the response you received. We are not here specifically to talk about your experience with violence; however, it may come up and we’re also here to support you. Please know that [name] is an advocate who will be present during the session and available for 30 minutes after the group ends.”
- With community members: “ Thank you for joining us today. We are here to talk about sexual violence in the community. We hope that you will tell us about what you see happening and share your ideas on how we might respond better. Some of you may have experienced sexual assault or personally know someone who did. We are not here to specifically talk about these experiences, but they may come up. If they do, we’re here to support you.”
- Expect disclosures. Anyone may be a survivor or care for someone who is and have a story they need to share. Though you may have stated that this is not the purpose of the focus group, survivors sometimes need to tell someone and be heard with kindness and empathy. When this happens, make sure that the person is aware of any limits to confidentiality and allow them to continue. Listen and let the person be heard. Most people speak for 15 to 20 minutes and will thank everyone for listening to them. One strategy is to include in the group an advocate dedicated to talking with individuals who might need more support. Arrange for a quiet area or space separate from the session where the conversation can occur.
If you attempt to stifle someone from disclosing, group members may take this as a sign that you do not really care, and this may influence the way they talk about you and your organization with others in the community. If someone is very distressed, you can recognize that what happened to them was terrible and provide them with the opportunity to meet with the advocate in another area to receive immediate support.
If a personal disclosure is made, it is important to watch the reactions of other participants. If anyone else appears distressed, the facilitator can check in with them during or after the meeting.
- Expect to hear about many forms of violence. Many people have experienced multiple forms of abuse and violence as children and adults. When discussing the community’s response to violence, it may be important to clarify what the focus group member was seeking assistance with as they describe the services they received.
- Say you will be available after the group to talk with anyone who might have a question or concern that they did not feel comfortable talking about in front of others. Notice anyone who is slow to exit when the group ends and ask how they are doing. Reserve the space for an additional 30 minutes after the group ends so that you have a private space to talk if needed.
- Debrief with focus group staff and volunteers if the members shared personal stories. Take time to check in with one another and ask if they are okay or need anything. Review and document key insights and additional questions the listening forum raised as well as what worked well and what you would do differently next time.
Preparing a Listening Forum
- Begin planning the listening forum at least three months in advance, including developing a plan for physical and language accessibility.
- Develop clear and measurable goals when drafting the meeting agenda. What does the SART want to know?
- Identify and prepare facilitators, advocates, and note takers. Consider having a meeting to run through the meeting process and discussion process in advance of the forum.
- Draft four to six questions. Ask about things like:
- Do people know someone who has been sexually assaulted?
- Where do people go for help when this happens to them? Whom do people tell?
- Do people know about any hotlines, apps, or websites that might help?
- Is there a person or program where people go to get help if they are assaulted?
- How is sexual assault seen in this community? What do people think causes sexual assault? How are survivors and offenders seen in this community?
- What do people know about sexual assaults, victims, or offenders in their community?
- What do they think is needed to prevent sexual assault? To improve responses?
- Is there anything that we have not talked about that would be important for professionals to know?
- Ask for feedback from people — professionals and community members — who represent the forum participants. Discuss their feedback with the assessment team and full SART to refine the final questions.
- Formulate a list of commonly used terms or acronyms and definitions. Print this list to provide to all participants. While you should avoid using professional jargon, everyone will benefit from having a common definition for terms like sexual assault.
- Develop a plan for identifying and inviting forum participants. Consider any safety or accessibility needs of potential participants.
- Create an invitation that clearly describes the forum’s purpose and focus. Include information on confidentiality and a statement assuring people that their participation is voluntary. Include a list of questions to be discussed and a copy of consent forms. Include information about the availability of transportation, food, childcare, stipends, etc.
- Consider asking participants to let you know they will be attending and ask if you might contact them to talk before the forum and send them a meeting reminder. A quick screening conversation may help determine if the person is a good fit for the forum at this time. This is especially important to do if a participant asks to bring a friend or family member to the forum.
- Limit participation to 8 to 10 individuals and the timeframe from 90 minutes to 2 hours. A few people will cancel at the last minute, so if you invite 8 to 10, and 6 to 8 show up, the group is still large enough to host a forum.
- Make the forum’s time, location, and logistics as easy and convenient as possible for participants. For listening forums with community members, take advantage of events and places where people already gather.
- Provide cash stipends, food, transportation, childcare, and incentives to make it easier for people to participate and to recognize the attendees’ contribution of time and participation.
- If possible, send reminders to the forum participants the day before it meets.
- Offer opportunity for participants to stay connected to you and your work: Pass around a signup sheet to gather contact information so you can send results of the community needs assessment, so they know how their participation impacted change or so you can contact them again for additional opportunities to engage in community and systems change efforts.
Staffing a Listening Forum
SART members are often involved in creating forum questions, inviting participants, and organizing and facilitating listening forums. Preparing for and hosting one or more listening forums is a time-limited task that can be assigned to the entire SART or to a smaller workgroup.
Community agencies who may not be active members of the SART may assist with recruiting attendees, providing a space, and facilitating forums.
When selecting facilitators, look for people who are skilled at talking and listening. Optimally, they will also match the diversity of the forum participants, especially in language and culture. Consider how their professional role may impact the forum discussion. For instance, in some communities, having a police officer as a facilitator or even a note taker, may squelch the conversation if the group distrusts police. Conversely, it may give the group an opportunity to talk with a police officer in a different way and provide the officer with an opportunity to learn directly from the community they serve. Decide what works for your community and adapt to the forum group’s needs.
Basic staffing needs include —
- one or two note-takers, depending on the size of the group.
- one facilitator, although two is ideal.
- one advocate, or more depending on size of the group.
- language interpreters (two per person requiring interpretation).
- support staff to assist participants, assist with meeting logistics, take notes, and support facilitators. These may be SART members or non-SART members selected specifically for the required task.
- welcome person (this may be an additional responsibility of another staff member) to review and sign consent forms with participants (benefits and risks of participation, how the information will be used, with whom the information will be shared, whether quotes will be used, and if so how confidentiality will be protected, etc.). At the forum conclusion, this person will also distribute stipends for participation and, if applicable to track grant funds, have participants sign receipts to indicate they were paid. This should not be the advocate, as they may be working with a client at the end of the session.
Facilitating a Listening Forum
- Prepare an introduction that clearly explains the meeting’s purpose, schedule, what’s expected of participants, and how the information will be used.
- Post definitions to words, phrases, or acronyms that may be used during the discussion.
- Post guidelines for the discussion. Discuss any limits to confidentiality.
- Give people permission to leave the room whenever they need to do so for whatever reason. Recognize that talking about sexual assault may be difficult at times. Let them know that someone may check on them if they are gone for a while (15 to 20 minutes).
- Have food, something to drink, and tissues available.
- Seat people so that they can see one another.
- Use name cards and sign-in sheets thoughtfully. Victims and community members may not be comfortable using their names in this discussion. Name cards may only have a number on them or a number with a first name or a number with their full name. The number will make it easy for note takers to attribute comments to an individual without using the person’s name. Professionals may be comfortable having their full names on the name card along with their number.
- Keep a list of who was assigned what number so that you can analyze the responses later and identify any common themes or sources of identified needs and strengths.
- Talk through the prepared questions, taking time to clarify any words or terms that are unclear. Ask for clarification if responses are overly vague or people use terms that you are unfamiliar with. Check for commonalities in responses by asking if others see it the same way or differently.
- Community members and survivors will likely mention individuals who provided services to them. There may be negative reviews and stories of volunteers and professionals whose manner and actions were helpful.
- End the forum on time. Have a timekeeper let the group know when there are 15 minutes remaining.
- Let participants know that you will be available after the forum if they wish to talk further. Plan ahead so that there is a private space available for these conversations.
Developing a Summary of Listening Forum Responses
You may wish to have a separate summary of listening forum insights and recommendations. The listening forum summary may describe how and when a forum was held, the focus, the numbers and kinds of participants, and trends in responses as distinct responses. The final summary will be added to the demographic and agency data on sexual violence to create a community needs assessment report.
Like every other step in the needs assessment process, data analysis can be conducted in a way that builds trust and understanding within your SART. You can increase collaboration by —
- clarifying definitions and agency or program data,
- being transparent about the handling and interpreting of data, and
- bringing in expertise to conduct data analysis if needed.
The Community Needs Assessment Report
When writing the final report —
- review the original plan. How will the report be constructed so that it meets the discussed goals? Has new information surfaced that necessitates changes to the original plan? Who needs to be involved in making and approving any changes?
- compare the demographic description of the community to the people being served by service providers. Does the community have children, teens, or young adults who have higher rates of sexual assault? Are any groups of people not accessing services?
- create a preliminary profile of your community and service provided. Write up the data that has been gathered and ask entities that have provided data to review what has been written. Encourage them to clarify anything that does not accurately reflect their work.
- consider estimating the prevalence of sexual assault so that you can compare it to the actual number of victims seeking services. This is especially helpful when very few services exist, there is little data to collect, or very few people seek services.
- draft a final report and share it. Follow the agreed-upon plan unless the SART decides to do otherwise. The information can be helpful to gain support for change across sectors of the community.
Listening Forum Resources
Vera Justice Institute’s Center on Victimization and Safety developed four tip sheets to assist in planning and implementing accessible meetings that address the needs of all people, including people with disabilities and Deaf people.
This document from the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence provides guidance around language access, translation, and technologies for interpreting.
This webinar from Praxis International discusses listening forums and focus groups with survivors.
LGBTQ Youth: Voices of Trauma, Lives of Promise (multimedia, 13:22)
This video by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network gives voice to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning (LGBTQ) youth who have experienced trauma, including sexual assault.
Needs Assessment Resources
This resource includes eleven important considerations when hosting a listening forum.
At the Table: Hosting Listening Forums to Talk About Sexual Violence by Jo E. Johnson, 2018. Provided with permission.
This resource provides several key reasons to host listening forums, as well as their benefits.
At the Table: Listening Forums with Professionals, Survivors & Community Members by Jo E. Johnson, 2018. Provided with permission.
Community Profiles: Who Are Our Survivors of Sexual Assault? (PDF, 3 pages)
This resource describes a community profile as the people who live in, work in, and visit a community.
Community Profiles: Who Are Our Survivors of Sexual Assault? by Jo E. Johnson, 2018. Provided with permission.
Use the Community Toolbox to get help taking action, teaching, and training others in organizing for community development. Find help assessing community needs and resources, addressing social determinants of health, engaging stakeholders, action planning, building leadership, improving cultural competency, planning an evaluation, and sustaining efforts over time.
This toolkit focuses on key tools and skills for conducting community assessments to strengthen services for sexual assault victims.
This workbook provides guidance on performing a community needs assessment, writing protocol, developing training, and more.
This online guide will help you conduct a comprehensive needs assessment of your community, target populations, and the services available to them. It will also guide you in using the results of your needs assessment to further develop, refine, and implement your program.
Sample Community Needs Assessment Report (PDF, 4 pages)
The information in this report was gathered in a community-based needs assessment conducted in the Cumberland County, Maine, area during December 2009 and January and February 2010. Project partners include Family Crisis Services (FCS), the Portland (Maine) Police Department, and the South Portland (Maine) Police Department.
Adapting the Needs Assessment Process to Diverse Communities
The Hispanic Resource Center developed this resource guide to help community-based service programs more easily find and access available resources on cultural competency to better serve their targeted populations. Second, the resource guide aims to help community-based organizations (CBOs) attract funders who often require evidence of culturally relevant programs.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) is a five-step planning process to guide the selection, implementation, and evaluation of effective, culturally relevant, and sustainable prevention activities.
The effectiveness of this process begins with a clear understanding of community needs, based on close examination of epidemiological data. This resource includes guidelines on reaching out to five populations: LGBTQ individuals; veterans and military families; people who identify as Hispanic or Latin@/x; American Indians and Alaskan Natives; and people with disabilities.
Needs Assessments for Specific Populations
This center is an online clearinghouse of information for colleges and universities. Resources include information about sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
Conducting Strengths and Needs Assessment (PDF, 32 pages)
This document was created to help grantees of The Services, Training, Education and Policies to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking in Secondary Schools Grant Program (STEP Program) develop and conduct a strength and needs assessment to examine assets and gaps in prevention, intervention, and responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking to facilitate the development of effective and comprehensive programs for students.
This office oversees sexual assault policies for the Department of Defense and develops and implements prevention and response programs.