In October of 2003, SafeHouse Center began providing services to survivors of sexual assault. The Sexual Assault Crisis Center had previously provided these services, but due to budgetary constraints they were forced to close their doors in October 2003. SafeHouse was able to provide a seamless transition of services for survivors of sexual assault by providing a 24-Hour HelpLine, emergency shelter, counseling, support groups, advocacy, community education, prevention, social change and a 24 hour Sexual Assault Response Team.
The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is a multi-disciplinary team composed of advocates from SafeHouse, specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), prosecutors, and law enforcement. The Washtenaw County SART was formed in 2002 to formalize and coordinate the response to survivors of sexual assault. This SART team was developed beginning in 2000 by the Washtenaw County Coalition on Gender Violence and Safety, a coordinated community collaboration of domestic violence and sexual assault service providers, batterers intervention service providers, prosecutors, police, hospitals, community government officials, and other community partners. The SART approach provides survivors with the most efficient, sensitive and appropriate services by streamlining the processes of the hospital, law enforcement, prosecution and advocacy. The SART has resulted in reduced waiting times in the Emergency Room for survivors of sexual assault, better service provision, and increased conviction rates.
When a sexual assault survivor presents to the Emergency Room at either The University of Michigan Health System (Ann Arbor) or St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (Ypsilanti), the survivor is triaged immediately and is given a private place to wait. Hospital staff then calls the SART team. The SART dispatcher, a staff member at SafeHouse, gathers relevant information and pages the SANE on-call and the SafeHouse advocate on-call. The SANE and advocate respond promptly to the hospital to provide a medical/forensic exam (rape kit) and crisis intervention and support services to the survivor. The hospital staff is trained to alert law enforcement, who also responds immediately.
SafeHouse Center advocates follow-up with survivors within two business days of their hospital visit to offer on-going counseling, support, and advocacy, including legal advocacy. Law enforcement are also authorized to contact SART prior to a survivor’s arrival at the hospital, or when a survivor does not need a medical/forensic exam but wishes to speak with an advocate.
Survivors are able to choose whether to participate with any, or all of the services provided by the SART team.
In 1987, SafeHouse Center established a first response team in order to provide support immediately following a domestic violence assault. All Washtenaw County law enforcement agencies contact the SafeHouse Center Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT) after receiving a report of domestic violence. Local area hospitals also page DVRT when a patient discloses that she experienced domestic violence. SafeHouse staff or volunteers then travel to the survivor’s location to offer support and information and to help her plan for her safety. The DVRT contact is often the fist time that a survivor learns of SafeHouse and of the options and services that are available to help her. This is often the first time that she has been able to talk with someone about her situation without being blamed for the violence or judged for staying with her assailant. The strength of this program is that we go to the survivor; therefore, she does not have to identify herself as a domestic violence survivor or request services from us first. Response from survivors to the DVRT is almost entirely positive.
The Response Teams Coordinator trains and supervises all DVRT volunteers with the help of a full-time Response Teams advocate. On weekdays during business hours, staff at SafeHouse Center responds to pages from the police or hospital. A pool of 35-40 volunteers cover all evening, weekend, and holiday shifts. Volunteers are always on DVRT in pairs and make contact by phone if it is not safe to do so in person. The Response Teams Coordinator is always available to DVRT volunteers by pager to answer questions, consult on particular cases, and advocate in emergency situations.