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Section 3: Build Your SART

Build Your SART Building Relationships SART Membership
Set up a Leadership Structure Confidentiality  

Building Relationships

Developing the relationships needed to form and maintain a strong SART is crucial to SART success and takes a committed effort, both in action and time. SARTs serve to enhance relationships, simply by creating opportunities for people to come together. [12] Your SART can enhance relationships between members through team building exercises, group processes or any other activities where members may come together. Forming strong relationships among agencies outside of formal meeting times can help to build trust and collegiality among SART members and agencies.

Relationship building is essential because it helps your team members get along despite any differences. The goal is to develop relationships where everyone is comfortable having difficult conversations, expressing opinions, and making challenging decisions in an honest, ethical manner. Relationship building is often a constantly occurring process for SARTs, due to staff transitions and turnover.

The work of SARTs can be tension-filled, task oriented, and highly political. Ensuring that each SART member feels like a valued contributor to the group, both during scheduled meetings and during contact outside of meetings, can strengthen the work of the group.

Some team building methods include —­­ [13]

  • educating team members about the nature and scope of each organization, their missions, and the challenges and barriers faced by each agency;
  • using humor to help people relax and be more open with one another;
  • engaging in an activity in which people share something about themselves;
  • hiring a meeting facilitator or arranging a facilitator to donate time to help with this process; and
  • planning off-site retreats that allow people casual and recreational time to become acquainted.

Community Engagement: Increasing Readiness for Engagement

Community engagement aims to create communities where equality, respect, and safety are accepted norms to prevent sexual assault, support victims, and hold offenders accountable.

Your SART can increase community engagement and integration by —

  • becoming part of the community;
  • learning about the community’s social networks;
  • identifying where different groups of people go to talk, learn new things, and take action to improve their neighborhoods, towns, and counties;
  • attending meetings of faith and civic groups to learn about their missions and memberships;
  • identifying how different people in the community communicate with each other, such as social media, blogs, newspaper editorials, town hall meetings, informal discussions at coffee shops, etc.;
  • using the community connections of SART members to identify teams, interest groups, civic organizations, or faith memberships and consider how these groups might be included in prevention activities;
  • coordinating prevention efforts across the community to create unified messages about healthy relationships and advance skills needed to have healthy relationships;
  • promoting and supporting the prevention efforts of community sexual assault centers, domestic violence centers, public health departments, and schools;
  • combining resources with other community agencies, faith communities, and citizen groups to ensure a thorough response to sexual assault and comprehensive, collaborative prevention efforts;
  • addressing rape myths and victim-blaming attitudes within outreach and education materials;
  • working with the media to ensure stories about sexual assault are covered responsibly, with a sufficient focus on the offender and without using victim-blaming language;
  • increasing local awareness about how different forms of oppression contribute to sexual assault; and
  • assisting local schools, colleges, businesses and other organizations in updating their staff behavior expectations, employee or student bill of rights, and victim response policies.

SART Meeting Dynamics and Relationships

When coordinating SART meetings, it is important to understand the group dynamics and how they can impact the buy-in of your members:

  • It is possible that the content of each meeting may not be useful to every member; however, each meeting will be useful to some SART members.
  • Everyone around the table benefits when each member shares information from their perspective, so creating space for each member to share updates from their agency is a good practice.
  • Members, especially new ones, will not know if meetings may be useful to them unless they attend. A large focus of meetings is identifying areas of service provision that overlap or could be improved.
  • Develop protocols around decision-making and problem-solving prior to addressing issues or concerns during meetings; this will help tense conversations and decisions to be resolved in a manner that has been agreed to by all members.
  • The most efficient SARTs plan meetings, with agendas that include input from all members, which increases buy-in from everyone around the table.
  • It is important to keep in mind the goal of a SART, which is to identify barriers to creating trauma-informed, victim-centered responses to sexual assault. This means there will be ample opportunity to use the decision-making and conflict resolution protocols that the group develops. Understanding that this is the goal of a SART will also serve as a reminder to your members that not all conflict is bad and that problem-solving is both the charge of and challenge for SARTs.

How SARTs Determine Which Relationships to Build

When building relationships, individuals and groups tend to start with who we know and work out from there. A successful SART will continue to expand that circle.

Consider the following when building relationships to support your work:

  • Agencies whose mission involves responding to reports of sexual assault are natural allies. These can include agencies that serve underrepresented communities that may receive disclosures or reports of sexual assault.
  • Agency decision-makers can be critical. SART coordinators often struggle to identify whom to approach in an agency. Ideally, the person is a decision-maker with authority in the agency to allocate resources; however, it is frequently an individual at the agency with buy-in to support victims of sexual assault who attends the meetings.
  • Identifying the right person at an agency to be a representative can be as simple as finding someone who supports the formation and mission of your SART. A mid-level or front-line employee may be able to champion the cause within their agency, lobbying for support to attend ongoing meetings and to develop interagency agreements.
  • Involving the decision-maker in identifying their agency representative can be important so that SART attendance is not assigned to someone who is not invested in the mission of the group or who does not have the support of agency leadership.
  • Community groups and agencies that are underserved or hard to reach should be approached. It is important for the success of your SART to create trust within the community. For additional information on relationship building with community groups, please see the section Develop an Outreach Plan in the SART Toolkit.

Develop an Outreach Plan

Outreach plans typically occur after a SART is formed but could occur doing any phase of SART development. Community members and representatives from underserved communities should be essential or core members — not brought in as afterthoughts. Incorporate multiple agencies and voices in your SART, enhancing community engagement and buy-in by incorporating an outreach plan in your SART’s formation.

Meeting the needs of historically underserved communities requires a plan for setting direction, defining results, leveraging new resources, identifying issues, and developing solutions. In 2001, the Violence Against Women State Planning Committee in Hawai’i created a long-range plan for increased outreach and services to underserved populations isolated by culture and language, disability, and sexual orientation. [14]

The planning committee for that group discovered several issues:

  • Non-English-speaking individuals may have lacked close ties to and support from family and friends and had limited access to and understanding of the services available.
  • Non-English-speaking victims were often isolated geographically, emotionally, and intellectually.
  • Intimate partner abuse included various forms of isolation.
  • Women were vulnerable in the workplace (e.g., female housekeepers were assaulted while cleaning hotel rooms).
  • Victims who were in the military or were military dependent and who lived off-post were isolated from military support services.

To address these issues, the planning committee set two objectives:

  • Increase outreach to victims isolated by culture/language, disability, or sexual orientation:
    • Meet with knowledgeable people in underserved groups and determine effective outreach activities.
    • Develop outreach campaigns with and for underserved populations.
    • Develop training components to address cultural sensitivity.
    • Define a minimum level of services to ensure continuity of victim services.
    • Implement outreach campaigns with and for underserved populations.
    • Expand and implement collaborations with criminal justice system partners.
    • Develop and implement a strategy to ensure that victim services are sustainable.
    • Provide a balanced system and level of services that extend beyond the current services.
    • As a contingency plan, train volunteers to maintain services if funding decreases.
  • Increase accessibility to law enforcement, courts, and service providers:
    • Increase the number of competent interpreters (i.e., competent in sexual assault issues, policy, and procedures of the court system).
    • Develop cross-cultural training curriculums for law enforcement, courts, and service providers and include victims in the planning process.
    • Provide competent interpreters as defined above for all victims.
    • Provide sensitivity training to law enforcement, courts, and service providers.
    • Provide reasonable accommodations to make services accessible to victims who need additional support to access services, such as transportation to treatment or court.

Hawai’i’s plan for increased outreach and services is an example of a culturally responsive system of care. As you endeavor to build such systems of care, keep in mind the following:

  • Victims who come from particular cultural groups do not necessarily share the values commonly attributed to that group. There is as much diversity within cultures as there is between cultures.
  • The terms “diversity” and “traditionally underrepresented” are often used interchangeably, but there are differences. Diversity refers to the recognition of the vast array of different groups, including those of different races, ethnicities, genders, and cultures, that may have varying behaviors, attitudes, values, beliefs, rituals, traditions, languages, or histories. [15] Traditionally underrepresented or underserved refers to persons whose distinct experiences and needs have not been generally recognized or have not been well served by organizations that respond to sexual assault. [16]
  • The term diversity is losing favor as a term among many advocacy groups. The terms “inclusion” or “equity and inclusion” often replace the term diversity. [17] As one article noted, “Verna Myers, who runs a diversity consulting firm in Baltimore, put it elegantly: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’” [18]

Reaching out to cultures that experienced colonization, historical oppression, current oppression, or racism may require additional time to develop and build trust. When forming your SART, it is essential to leave room and time for the conversations necessary to make everyone feel comfortable participating. Additionally, inclusion means not only asking for input when creating your SART, but continuing to engage these populations in meaningful ways in the work of the SART in the community. SARTs can work with community groups to assess effectiveness of outreach campaigns and levels of awareness of SART services within a given population.

Increase Buy-In

Buy-in, or agreement to support the SART, is a focus during formation and should continue to be addressed throughout your SART’s existence. There are multiple levels of buy-in and each should be addressed separately. Buy-in may refer to survivors’ awareness of and level of trust with a SART and their services. Buy-in might refer to community awareness of, support for, or engagement with your SART. Buy-in may also refer to the level of engagement by agencies or individual SART members.

Buy-in of individuals and agencies may be affected by prioritization of concerns, limited capacity, inability to follow through on possible team recommendations, unclear goals, unclear commitments, lack of community or government support for the SART, adamant community or government support for the SART, existing relationships between potential members, historical relationships between potential members, or the way agencies are invited to join the team.

Buy-in may be another way of talking about relationships, including the level of trust. See the building relationship section of the SART Toolkit for more information. [Insert link to the building relationship section in this document]

Buy-in can mean different things to different people. The reluctance of an agency or individual professionals to join, show up, or actively participate in your SART can be addressed in several ways, including individual conversations, team building, and clearly defining your purpose. Often the reluctance is a misunderstanding, lack of clarity, or low capacity. In cases where a conversation takes place, your SART can explore how to support individual members and agencies in overcoming hurdles to participation.

To facilitate buy-in, your SART can take a number of steps:

  • Use team-building activities that allow people to get to know one another and build trust.
  • Develop a clear marketing plan for your SART and for member agency administrators to raise awareness about your services and agency participation in the SART.
  • Build relationships with community leaders who the SART will be accountable to in the future and who may be able to encourage other agencies to attend meetings. This can include local elected officials or county agencies that have a vested interest in the work of your SART.
  • Set up a meeting with agency administrators and anyone who might attend your meetings:
    • Listen to their hopes, concerns, and struggles both regarding SART work as well as those concerns facing their agency in providing services to victims.
    • Discuss areas where your SART may support the agency with a long-standing concern or help them achieve an agency objective.
    • Share successes of other SARTs, particularly neighboring SARTs.
    • Share common SART goals and explain that each SART sets their own goals based on the community and that each SART member agency is an essential part of that process.
    • Share any plans, including agendas, statements, and interest from other agencies. SART meetings are a good opportunity to set the stage for transparent communication, even in cases where relationships were previously challenging.
    • Discuss accountability and explain what the SART will do to inform the community of the multidisciplinary work. Agencies may want to be sure that they are included in awareness campaigns, media outreach, or reports on the work of your SART.
  • Let the community know what you are doing:
    • Create a public Facebook page to raise awareness of the SART’s existence and your accomplishments and goals.
    • Work with local media to share information about the formation of the team and to periodically encourage news reports on your SART’s accomplishments.

For more information on common discipline specific concerns that may arise during discussions of buy-in, refer to buy-in in the Law Enforcement, Prosecutors, and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners section in the SART Toolkit.

Collaboration Resources

Be A STAR: A Tool to Assess and Improve Team Effectiveness

The tool developed by the Human Systems Dynamics Institute is based on the STAR Model developed by complexity scholar Brenda Zimmerman, Ph.D. The STAR model includes four features that allow teams to work effectively: same and different, talking and listening, authentic work, and reason for being.

Collaboration Assessment Tool
Prevention Institute offers a tool allows multidisciplinary coalitions to identify strengths and areas of growth and enables them to gauge progress over time.

Collaboration Framework — Addressing Community Capacity
The University of Minnesota developed this tool to help individuals and practitioners who are either starting collaborations or need help in strengthening an existing collaboration.

Collaboration Multiplier
The Prevention Institute developed this tool to help multidisciplinary coalitions evaluate each partner's skills.

Program Development and Evaluation
The University of Wisconsin-Extension provides guides and group discussion resources about how a team is functioning and includes easily adaptable questions regarding the amount of improvement needed.

Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory
The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation provides a tool to evaluate your team’s collaboration based on 20 research-test success factors.

Communication Standards

“Given the multiple entities that may need to respond to a reported sexual assault, and the differing responsibilities of each, effective communication and coordination is critical.” [19]

Everything your SART does is based on communication: communication with one another, communication with victims, communication with offenders, communication with member agencies and disciplines, and communication with communities. The quality or ability to effectively communicate is reflected in the outcomes of SART work, for victims, for systemic responses to sexual assault, and for communities.

Effective communication is the core of a successful SART and recognized as the third competency domain by the Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice. [20]

Each person on a SART has discipline-specific language, terminology, values, priorities, methods, organizational structures, and varying decision-making authority. [21] Geographic location can affect terminology related to SART work. These differences are often deeply embedded in a historical context of professional norms and frameworks that shape each individual’s approach to working with victims. [22]

These differing professional cultures are often unspoken but exert a powerful influence on SART responders. These office cultures may contain real or perceived power dynamics that affect the way SARTs work together. When SART members come together, it is essential they develop a common language that bridges these individual frames of reference to foster effective communication about the assault and the individuals involved. This includes the need for language void of actual or perceived value judgements that may negatively impact members’ ability to focus on the victim.

This section of the SART Toolkit explores aspects of communication related to ethics and confidentiality.

Consider the Impact of Your Words

Victims turn to service providers and community agencies for help, healing, and fairness. The language that your SART responders use can have a major impact on victims. It is not only important to know and understand the language of each other's disciplines, but also to create a shared SART language accepted by all participating agencies. All responders need to be especially attentive to language used in the health care and criminal justice systems.

It is crucial that all of those who will represent your SART in service delivery contexts be familiar with the preferred terminology, not just those who attend the formal SART meetings. [23] New members should be briefed on your shared language. Agencies can agree to a shared language as part of SART MOUs. Regular reminders or links to definitions of shared terms can be distributed to your members.

Read the section on Working with the Media in the SART Toolkit to learn more about the impact of your words on the community.

Visit the Start by Believing Campaign to learn more about how professionals can believe victims while remaining objective.

Shared Language

“If language creates reality, and words define real life experiences, then how we choose words and use language has great influence.” [24]

Agreeing to basic terminology frees your SART to focus on the situation, rather than the terminology in each instance. Having what some researchers call a “shared mental model,” or a common way of understanding the work of the team, increases the team’s effectiveness. [25] Shared vocabulary is important for developing shared mission and objectives, which research has often demonstrated is a key component to the effectiveness of teams. [26]

For example, the way service providers define individuals who have been sexually assaulted may vary by their profession. For medical personnel, the victim and offender may both be patients. For a social worker or counselor, the crime victim is a client. The police and prosecuting attorney's office interact with victims and witnesses. Rape crisis staff members provide services to victims and survivors. [27] This variation in terminology can easily set the stage for miscommunication during meetings.

The use of visuals, such as family trees, during conversations and case review can be extremely helpful in using consistent language to talk about the individuals involved and the alleged or actual offense. Agreeing to terminology at the beginning of a discussion allows for more fluid discussions.

In defining shared language, SARTs have an opportunity to use inclusive, appropriate, and clearly understandable (“plain”) language when referring to individuals, groups, races, income levels, or sexual orientation. These choices help reinforce an understanding that the SART is serving all victims.

Plain/Shared Language Resources

CDC Clear Communication Index

This CDC tool can be used to evaluate written materials for clarity and ease of understanding.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Plain Language Materials & Resources

These Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resources include recommendations on public health communication, guidelines on plain language use, and promotional materials about plain language.

Center for Plain Language

The Center for Plain Language works with government agencies and businesses to ensure their writing is clear and easy to understand.

Plain Language Association International

The Plain Language Association International (PLAIN) is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting plain language and clear communication.

Plain Language Checklist

SARTs can use this checklist from the Center for Plain Language to ensure their written documents are accessible to their audiences.

Develop Common Definitions

You can facilitate better interagency communication by establishing common definitions for technical words. One way to create a shared language is for SART members to discuss their roles and responsibilities, giving them an opportunity to ask questions and clarify procedures. Another way to shape a common language is by developing SART protocols or guidelines, in which terms are defined and easily understood. Documenting a shared language may also mean developing a list of frequently used acronyms to ensure that all SART members understand abbreviated language used in interagency work.

Each SART is governed by statutory definitions, protocol terms, and agency-specific terminology. SART members should be encouraged to bring and discuss the language they use in their own agencies toward developing a shared list. The following list also provides a starting place for discussing shared terminology. The list, adapted from one developed by the CDC, [28] should help you institutionalize frequently used words to ensure the words and definitions are understood and used consistently across disciplines. Visit the SART Toolkit Glossary for more terms and definitions.

Consent: Freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact as indicated by words or overt actions by a person legally and functionally competent. See the What SARTs Should Know About Sexual Violence section of the SART Toolkit for additional information related to the cultural and legal significance of consent.

Affirmative consent: “A knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” [29] A term often used on campuses in sexual misconduct policies.

Disability: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a three-part definition of disability. An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. ADA defines physical impairment as "any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine." [30] ADA does not list all the diseases or conditions that are covered because it is impossible to document every possible impairment.

First responders: Agencies and organizations positioned to respond to victims of sexual assault at the time of an initial disclosure. Individuals considered first responders may include advocates, law enforcement, and medical forensic examiners (not an exhaustive list).

Friend/acquaintance: Someone the victim knows but who is not a family member or an intimate partner. Friends and acquaintances could include coworkers, neighbors, dates, former dates, or roommates (not an exhaustive list).

Inability to consent: An inability to freely agree to have sexual contact or sexual intercourse due to age, illness, disability, or being asleep, unconscious, or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Inability to refuse: A situation where sexual contact was not refused because of the use of weapons or due to physical violence, threats of physical violence, real or perceived coercion, intimidation, or pressure or misuse of authority.

Incident: A single act or series of acts of sexual assault that are connected to one another. The incident could persist over a period of minutes, hours, or days. One perpetrator or multiple perpetrators may be involved.

Intimate partner: Current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Intimate partners may or may not be cohabiting and may not have existing sexual relationships.

Mental health care: Individual or group care by credentialed or licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or other counselors who work with mental health issues. This definition could include pastoral counseling if such counseling is specifically related to the mental health of the victim.

Non-contact sexual abuse: Non-contact sexual abuse can include voyeurism, exhibitionism, pornography, sexual harassment, or taking nude photographs or videos of a sexual nature of another person without their legal consent or knowledge.

Non-stranger: Non-strangers might include guards, maintenance people, clerks, and others who are known to the victim but who are not friends, acquaintances, or former or current intimate partners.

Person in position of power or trust: This category involves offenders who have power or authority over victims. Persons in position of power and trust could include teachers, caregivers, religious leaders, coaches, health care professionals, or employers (not an exhaustive list).

Physical evidence collection: Physical evidence can include hairs, fibers, or specimens of body fluids from a victim's body or garments or other tangible evidence that may aid in the identification and prosecution of perpetrators.

Psychological functioning: This includes intellectual, mental health, emotional, behavioral, or social functioning of victims. Changes in psychological functioning can be either temporary (180 days or less) or chronic (greater than 180 days). Examples of changes in psychological functioning include increases in or development of anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation, inattention, memory impairment, self-medication, self-mutilation, sexual dysfunction, and attempted or completed suicide.

Residential institution: This type of setting includes nursing homes, college campuses, retirement homes, military barracks, or jails and prisons. Victims may reside at these settings. Perpetrators may have access to these institutions (e.g., by being an employee).

Secondary responders: Agencies and organizations positioned to respond to victims of sexual assault after an initial intervention. Individuals considered secondary responders may include probation and parole officers, faith-based personnel, correctional officers, civil attorneys, and teachers or professors (not an exhaustive list).

Sex act (or sexual act): Contact between the penis and the vulva or the penis and the anus involving penetration, however slight; contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva, or anus; or penetration of the anal or genital opening of another person by a hand, finger, or other object.

Sexual assault: Any type of unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature by another person. This can occur through clothing, skin to skin, or by using an object, and it is without the person’s consent (either because they do not choose to give consent or because they are not able to consent due to age, incapacity, or other reason). [31] State laws vary in the definitions used for sexual assault. [32]

Sexual misconduct: Terminology typically related to institutions of higher education. One definition is that sexual misconduct is a broad term encompassing any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that is committed without consent or by force, intimidation, coercion, or manipulation. Sexual misconduct can be committed by a person of any gender, and it can occur between people of the same or different gender. [33]

Substance use treatment: Any treatment related to alcohol or other drug use, abuse, or dependence. For more information, visit SAMHSA.


It is essential for SART members to understand and observe the highest ethical standards in all aspects of their work. SART members’ actions have real consequences for victims, their families, their communities, and for people who offend. The conduct of SART members should always positively reflect on their agencies and their team.

According to A Program Manual for Child Death Review, “...ethics is commonly defined as a set of moral principles or a system of moral values that govern an individual or group.” [34] In addition to complying with legal obligations, those professions represented within the SART often impose their own code of ethics with which practitioners must abide. In the team context, there are ethical considerations for individuals, for the team itself, and for the organizations that oversee them. [35]

“The benchmark of a professional relationship is its conscious purposefulness.” [36] Ethical codes provide boundaries that help establish appropriate relationships between victims and responders (e.g., SART members should not give victims their home phone numbers or personal histories or invite them out for purely social engagements).

SARTs can support individual members and their agencies by maintaining professional relationships. This includes understanding that multidisciplinary ethics affect all SART members because decisions made by one member affect team members from other disciplines.

For example, a bilingual advocate supporting a victim during a detective's interview may conclude that an interpreter's translation is incorrect, but the advocate's role is not to participate in the interview or translate for the victim. This situation may cause a dilemma for the advocate (to speak or not to speak) and may affect subsequent judicial proceedings. Discussing possible ethical situations beforehand may ensure interagency roles are understood, even in exceptional situations. Such discussions are appropriate for cross-training or through vetting during SART meetings.

Understanding the ethical obligations and requirements for each team member and organization from the outset of your SART's development enables its members to hold one another accountable to each other and to ensuring victim safety.

Table 1. Factors and Levels in an interprofessional ethics framework. [37]


General guidelines for behavior

Established forms of knowledge and patterns of behavior

Procedural aspects of “how things are done”


Develop self- and disciplinary knowledge as basis for mutual respect among team members

Develop standards of professional practice for personal relationships with other team members

Practice active awareness of respectful communication with other team members


Understand norms and practice standards of other processions on team

Acquire insights into basis for practice of other professions on team

Discuss controversies and problems with others

Get to know and assimilate new members into teamwork processes


Master basic knowledge and skills required for effective teamwork

Establish a personal structure for reaching new members about one’s profession and role on team



Promote respect, truth-telling, beneficence, and justice in relationship with other team members

Integrate professional knowledge with other team members

Develop ethic of open communication and dialogue


Address communication and conflict problems

Develop integrated patient problem definitions and a structure for assessment and care planning

Arrive on time for team meetings


Develop understanding of differences in values, methods, and contributions of other team members

Promote and protect team as distinct structure

Develop and implement integrated patient care plans


Share responsibility for promoting team and accountability for its decisions and outcomes



Respect unique relationships between the team and the patient

Provide sufficient resource foundation for team

Support team development and function


Understand basic principles of teamwork

Establish evaluative structures for assessment of team’s work

Appoint facilitator to address communication and ethics issues and mediate team conflicts


Provide sufficient resources for the team to accomplish its work and fulfill its mission


SART Code of Ethics

Encourage SART members to share the ethical standards for their respective profession and identify tangible ways these standards may shape their SART participation. Based on the responses, develop a statement of shared ethical principles your SART will agree to adhere to.

Consider the following list as a starting point. Remember that the goal is to develop a clear understanding of the SART’s standards when responding to victims or working with team members and allied professionals: [38]

  • SART Ethical Principles for Responding to Victims :
    • Maintain proficiency in the delivery of services through continuing education.
    • Provide accessible services to victims, including services that are culturally responsive.
    • Report any conflict of interest that prevents delivering competent services to victims.
    • Respect and protect victims' rights.
    • Respect privacy and confidentiality.
  • SART Ethical Principles for Working with Colleagues, Other Professionals, and the Public :
    • Respect others.
    • Understand your role and others’ roles.
    • Foster skills for effective teamwork.
    • Seek appropriate methods for addressing conflict with colleagues that will model constructive conflict resolution.
    • Help those who are new to the field promote consistent quality in the response to sexual assault.
    • Promote prevention of crime and violence.

Ethics and the Law

Sometimes the relationship between ethics and legal responsibilities may not be clearly distinguished. Ethical standards typically demand more than the law requires. [39]

Consider the following ethical dilemmas to determine the best responses for your jurisdiction. What if —

  • in a spousal rape case, the victim meets with the detective and recants her original report of the rape? Case evidence supports the victim's initial version of events, not the recantation. What should the prosecutor do? What is the role of the victim advocate in this situation?
  • a landlord hired a convicted sex offender who raped a tenant? During a case review, it appears that the landlord had a legal obligation to warn the victim about this foreseeable risk. Should SART members alert the victim about the potential tort liability when the civil case could have an impact on the criminal case?
  • a victim declines the forensic exam after being transported to the hospital for fear that their recreational drug use will be detected? Should primary responders assure the victim they have nothing to worry about?
  • the victim is terrified that the attacker will retaliate if the sexual assault is reported? Law enforcement knows the suspect is dangerous and wants to apprehend the person. Should team members pressure the victim to report by emphasizing the risk to public safety or to other potential victims?
  • a SART member agency employs staff or volunteers that are convicted sex offenders? How do other organizations represented in the SART respond to this? The Capital Area Sexual Assault Team in Michigan faced this circumstance and asked an agency to leave their SART. [40]
  • a member of the local community asks you for information regarding a recent assault reported in the news, saying that other community members are concerned for their safety? You are familiar with the assault through your SART. What is the most appropriate way to respond to the inquiry?

Discuss these and other scenarios with your SART and consider ways they might most appropriately be handled. What options do team members see for the responders involved? How do your individual discipline’s ethical code and your proposed SART ethics shape the actions you would take? Being explicit about the rules (legal and ethical) that each member will follow can help other team members respond appropriately if such dilemmas arise.

Working through potential dilemmas proactively can minimize cross-disciplinary misunderstandings and ethical breaches. Consider, for example, how different disciplines, with different job responsibilities and varying degrees of confidentiality and privilege, can resolve issues concerning communication with victims.

Dangerous waters are usually marked with red flags or other warnings. Dangerous ethical situations are no different. The following phrases signal a potential for a compromised ethical response that could ultimately affect criminal justice outcomes: [41]

  • "Well, maybe just this once . . ."
  • "No one will ever know . . ."
  • "Everyone does it . . ."
  • "Shred that document."
  • "We did not have this conversation."
  • "No one will get hurt."

By proactively addressing ethical considerations as a SART, you can minimize potential problems and unintended consequences.

Ethics Resources

Code of Conduct — Team Exercise (PDF, 4 pages)

This exercise, developed by and for Sun Country Health Region, engages the team in the process of developing a code of ethics. It requires chart paper for taking notes and asks the team to work in groups of two to three members.

Code of Ethics for Nonprofits

This page from the National Council of Nonprofits lists resources and examples that help nonprofit organizations create code of ethics.

Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements

SARTs can build off of this code from the American Nurses Association.

Code of Professional Ethics for Victim Assistance Providers (PDF, 2 pages)

This sample code of ethics from the National Organization for Victim Assistance can be used as inspiration for your SART’s code of ethics.

Ethical Standards for Serving Victims and Survivors of Crime

The OVC provides an overview of the ethical expectations of service providers based on core values for the field.

Example Code of Ethical Behavior (PDF, 4 pages)

This example code of ethics, developed by the Foraker Group, serves as a template for organizations and can be adapted by your SART.

Intertwining Sexual Assault Advocacy & Ethics (PDF, 28 pages)

This issue of Connections , the biannual publication of the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, is focused on the connection between sexual assault advocacy and ethics, and features several articles that discuss tips for management and measuring ethical effectiveness.

Law Enforcement Oath of Honor (PDF, 10 pages)

Your SART can use this oath of honor from the International Association of Chiefs of Police as a building block in creating your own code of ethics.

National Prosecution Standards (PDF, 91 pages)

These standards cover prosecutors’ responsibilities, professionalism, conflicts of interest, and more.

New Mexico Sexual Assault Service Center Core Standards: Employee/Volunteer Code of Ethics (PDF, 2 pages)

This code of ethics from the New Mexico Sexual Assault Service Center can serve as a template or starting point for your SART in developing your own code of ethics.

Rule 3.8: Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor

This resource from the American Bar Association explains the responsibilities of a prosecutor in a criminal case.

Top Ten Tips for Developing an Effective Code of Conduct

The Association of Corporate Counsel’s tips include providing examples of situations team members might encounter, developing a training program, revising and updating the code as necessary, and more.

Victim Safety, Technology, and Communication

SARTs and individual team members frequently use technology tools to communicate, which can include sharing information about victims. Given the confidentiality required, it is critical that your SART consider the privacy and security of technology before using it to communicate and collaborate. Any decision about the use of technology for communication must put the safety and confidentiality of victims before considerations of effectiveness and convenience for your SART members.

Each member of your SART has unique legal, policy, and confidentiality obligations regarding communications about victims. A SART agreement or MOU does not affect confidentiality requirements, and all partners should be aware of their own obligations, as well as the obligations of other team members. MOUs may add additional restrictions to team members’ existing legal obligations or agency policies but cannot remove any.

Communication that shares information about victims — including whether or not identifying information is shared — must adhere to confidentiality policies. SARTs that have clear guidelines around keeping information within the SART and discouraging external conversations may build trust with victims. How technology use affects that communication is a critical consideration if your team uses technology to communicate.

It is always the victim’s choice whether to share or have information shared with each individual team member and the team as a whole. Each team member is responsible for seeking informed consent from victims to share information according to legal and agency policies. To make informed choices, victims need to understand who is seeking information and for what reason, where the information might go once shared, and potential consequences of sharing information.

Victims determine if your SART can discuss their individual situation or case in any way, including discussions that do not include personally identifying information (PII). Personally identifying information is information that might allow someone to know who a specific victim is, such as name, address, contact information, Social Security number, etc. SARTs can work as a team to identify ways for victims to communicate directly with the team, by a written statement or by attending a meeting. Individual team members can discuss these options with victims.

SARTs planning on working with victims by inviting them to meetings during open cases should review the Victims’ Voices section of the SART Toolkit. While this section focuses on seeking victims’ feedback for evaluation, it will walk your team through basic safety and other concerns when inviting victims to submit a written statement or to attend team meetings.


Some forms of communication are more secure than others. For example, email is not generally a secure form of communication, unless it is encrypted. Text and email messages can be viewed by anyone who can access the user’s device, and may remain on the servers of the communications company for a period of time, even if deleted on the device itself. Unauthorized sharing of information can create harm to victims and damage a case, which should be a primary consideration when choosing how to share information electronically.

Security should be a focus when using any cloud-based storage or physical devices, such as flash drives. Documents on cloud-based storage should be encrypted and password-protected. Some companies are never private and may never be safe, particularly those that retain the right to read everything stored in their systems. When your SART explores how to share information electronically, these safety measures should be considered, and the electronic method used should be reviewed, at least annually, due to constantly changing technology, including permissions, access, and accessibility, which may all impact a victim’s safety.


Mobile communication technologies may not function effectively in remote rural areas, and in some urban locations such as underground parking garages. Rarely, communications networks can stop working due to emergencies, weather conditions, and technical malfunctions. User error can also result in missing attachments, deleted files, sending communication to unintended recipients, and other problems. Your SART should consider these possibilities when designing processes for communication among team members, especially in urgent situations, and when sharing evidence or case details.


The professional obligations and privilege protections of each team member will affect the choice of communication technologies. Community-based advocates should avoid becoming part of the chain of custody for evidence by encouraging victims to not forward pictures, messages, or other potential evidence to the advocate. Instead, advocates should help victims to gather, preserve, and document evidence so that it can be used in court.

Systems-based team members should exercise caution in sharing evidence electronically to ensure that evidence is stored correctly and securely, and is not inadvertently sent to the wrong recipient. Your members should be aware that any conversations had by SART members with prosecutors and police officers could be treated as discoverable.

Consequences of Sharing Information

After obtaining informed consent, SART members may share general or PII during communications, sometimes verbally or with the use of technology. Proper safety and privacy practices must be put in place to protect against the following situations:

  • Offenders intercept information, creating safety concerns for victims, especially in cases of intimate partner violence.
  • Family or friends of the victim intercept information.
  • Media intercepts or becomes aware of information.
  • Other service providers become aware of information not intended for them. This can be especially damaging to victims in cases where the communication creates an obligation on their part to share or begin an investigation, such as with campus administrators, military leaders, or mandated reporters of child abuse or vulnerable adult abuse.
  • Information shared with defense attorneys.
  • Personal thoughts of the service provider become part of evidence at trial. This can be psychologically damaging, particularly if the service provider was not victim-centered or trauma-informed. This can also negatively impact the victim’s court case.
  • Service providers’ electronic devices taken into evidence for lengthy periods of time or dumped entirely, interfering with the provider’s ability to work, complete daily tasks, or maintain social or familial connections.

Communication with Victims

Victim service providers increasingly use technology to communicate with victims. This includes communication over mobile devices with voice or text, email, video, through applications (apps) or web chat. Communication technologies may be especially important to increase access for people with disabilities, such as video conferencing options.

Using technology to communicate can be more convenient than a face to face meeting for both the service provider and victim. In some cases, such as in the use of telemedicine for forensic exams, technology may be the only way to provide culturally responsive, victim-centered, trauma-informed care from a trained medical forensic provider.

Technology also allows for improved cultural responsiveness as service providers may use web-based apps to communicate basic information before a trained, certified interpreter is available. Although it is almost always advisable to have an in-person interpreter, interpretation services may only be available through technology. Technology is essential to providing 24-hour, 7-days-a-week video relay services for Deaf and hard-of-hearing victims.

As much as technology may enhance victims’ experience working with systems, service providers should never assume victims have technology or access to technology. For example, even victims who own smartphones may not be connected to cell phone service. Victims may only be available for phone conversations on an app in a Wi-Fi hotspot. In some communities, the hotspot may not be a safe, private, secure location. In addition, devices may be placed in evidence, or lost, stolen, or destroyed, before, during, or after the sexual assault.

Service providers should use victim-centered language when asking victims what forms of communication work best for them. Also, it is important to build relationships with agencies that provide temporary devices, particularly phones, to ensure victims can contact their support systems and service providers.

When using technology, both the service provider and the victim need to consider several issues:

  • Is it safe?
    • Who has access to this device or program?
  • Is it private?
    • Are there other people near the victim or service provider?
    • Are other people involved in setting up appointments?
  • Is it secure?
    • Who could have access?
    • How difficult would it be to gain access if this device were lost or stolen?
  • What happens if it does not work?
    • Creating a back-up plan is important to help ensure that service providers and victims can connect, even if the conversation cannot happen at the designated time.
    • Rural areas, tribal nationals, and territories may experience frustration around inconsistent technology access.
  • What is the safest way to use this resource?
    • Texting may be wonderful for setting up appointments, but unsafe for detailed discussions of the violence.

Other parties, including the offender, can access unprotected communications in ways that could compromise victim safety and privacy, as well as the integrity of the investigation. For example, shared computers may not be secure. Victims calling from small homes with thin walls may not have private places to connect with service providers. Offenders or third parties might be able to impersonate a victim, intercept evidence, or monitor the content of conversations.

When implementing any type of technology within your SART as part of regular service delivery, it is important to have clear policies and procedures to outline proper use, as well as protocols for maintaining privacy for victims and the confidentiality obligations of each team member and agency. Any technology should be thoroughly examined to ensure that it is only used if necessary or beneficial to victims and will not risk safety, privacy, or confidentiality.

Best practice is to have a conversation with each victim about the associated risks of various forms of communication, and strategize ways to help ensure safety and privacy. Some victims will be more familiar with technology than other victims or service providers. When victims make an informed choice about what technology to use, the provider has a responsibility to use it in the safest way possible.

For more information, see 6 Questions to Consider When Offering Services via Technology [42] from the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Establishing SART “Turf” Relative to Communication

When forming your SART, it is important to learn from established SARTs and address common areas where challenges arise. One trouble area is “turf.” A SART has one “turf,” that of its jurisdiction, and all SART members are responsible for anyone and everyone in their jurisdiction. Clear and direct communication among your members can minimize problems related to perceptions of who is responsible for what.

Every member of your SART is on the same team, although turf issues arise when individuals perceive that their agency boundaries have been violated by a potential goal or a recommended procedure. These turf issues might arise from questions about who has the authority and credibility to influence the work of the team, [43] feeling that another responder has overstepped their role boundaries, [44], [45] or confusion about another’s role. [46], [47] Turf issues can cause conflict, competition for resources, and misunderstandings. [48] Individuals, the team, victims, and communities suffer when SART members engage in “turf wars.”

Your SART can respond to turf issues by clearly defining roles in your protocols and ensuring that all your members understand and respect their own role and that of other responders. Engaging in regular cross-training can help ensure that members have sufficient opportunity to learn about different roles, reinforce the shared mission and vocabulary, and develop rapport with one another. [49] Cross-training has been shown to increase team outcomes and sustainability. [50]

When turf issues come up, your SART can invite an external facilitator to discuss the protocol. In reviewing the protocol in detail, it may become apparent that role clarification is necessary or that a critical member of the team is absent on certain shifts, creating a breakdown in the process and causing other members to take on additional responsibilities. Your SART can read The Tension of Turf: Making It Work for the Coalition for more information on avoiding turf tension.

Whatever the concern, SARTs work together to define responsibilities and set protocols that accurately define and support those roles. These may need to be revisited regularly to ensure that the protocols are appropriate and effective.

Turf Issue Resources

Building Coalitions: Turf Issues

This resource from the University of Florida discusses “turf-ism” within coalitions, why “turf battles” happen, and how to solve them.

The Tension of Turf: Making It Work for the Coalition (PDF, 10 pages)

This resource from the Prevention Institute explains the concept of “turfs,” how “turf battles” might play out, and actionable ways to manage “turf” issues.

Effective Virtual Team Communication

As SARTs become geographically dispersed due to size, diversity of members, number of members, time-saving measures, or other rationales, teams need to consider the additional challenges present with geographic dispersion. [51]

Research demonstrates that communication progress stalls when participating in a virtual team, as developing trust is more challenging than in-person situations. To decrease potential alienation, virtual teams need to be conscious to increase opportunities to develop shared knowledge, work process, and vocabulary.

There are many technologies that exist to support virtual teams, which may be helpful in tracking progress on shared work objectives. Using technology appropriately and consistently allows members to focus on accomplishing tasks rather than monitoring extensive communication. [52]

As confidentiality is crucial to the rights and safety of victims, any communication about the case should be shared and stored according to federal, state, and agency laws. SARTs should review the Confidentiality section of the SART Toolkit and seek knowledgeable legal counsel when establishing confidentiality protocols to ensure they will be upheld in court.

SARTs also need to consider the specific technological needs and restrictions present at various organizations when selecting shared internet services, virtual meeting spaces, or storage spaces that are accessible to all SART members. Ensuring accessibility promotes inclusion, opportunities for collaboration, and effectiveness.

Remote Communication Resources

5 Essential Keys to Leading a Remote Work Force

This article from Entrepreneur provides tips that may be applicable to leaders responsible for coordinating a geographically remote SART.

8 Tips for Effective Virtual Teams

These tips from a Psychology Today article include considerations such as lack of nonverbal communication and acknowledgments of cultural diversity within the team.

Global Teams that Work

While most SARTs are not global, this article from the Harvard Business Review dives into concerns and recommendations related to a dispersed team, including perceived power imbalances, encouraging empathy, and developing shared language, the lessons of which may be applicable to SARTs.

Making Virtual Teams Work: Ten Basic Principles

This Harvard Business Review article discusses 10 ways to work with a remote team, including using technology, clarifying tasks, and creating a shared language.

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