SART TOOLKIT: Resources for Sexual Assault Response Teams
Develop a SARTPrint Print

Hold Team Meetings

Established SARTs generally hold regularly scheduled meetings to—

Team meetings are an important and necessary part of collaboration and a strategic way to monitor and evaluate the interagency response to sexual violence. As a statewide coordinator of the Kansas Sexual Assault Network put it1

Over the past seven years I have worked with professionals from all over the state who have come together to form SARTs. Some individuals come with an initial reservation, others come with drive and determination. The end result of the meeting process is a strong team of community members willing to learn about and from one another, sift through challenges, overcome turf issues, commit to common goals, face the fear of change, build mutual respect and ultimately, decide to change the way victims access and receive services. I have seen team members argue, I have seen them laugh, I have seen tears, I have seen compassion, I have seen frustration, and I have seen systems change for the better.

This section reviews the mechanics of holding team meetings, covering the following issues:

Pick the Place and Time

Make sure that your SART meetings are held in a location that is accessible and convenient and comfortably accommodates all participants.2 Consider rotating meeting places and times to accommodate different schedules and to give SART members a chance to become familiar with other agency settings. For example, Cuyahoga County, Ohio's SART usually meets at the same location for convenience, but it rotates locations periodically to acquaint members with different agency responses (e.g., the FBI hosted a meeting at the Cleveland FBI Headquarters to familiarize members with their work).

In the beginning, you'll likely hold planning meetings weekly or biweekly. Once your SART is established, you can move to monthly or quarterly meetings. In Reno County, Kansas, for example, the SART meets at the hospital every 45 days for a brown bag lunch. The meeting is very informal and usually lasts about an hour. The Fairbanks, Alaska, SART meets quarterly at the local hospital and invites the sexual assault response coordinator from the military to every meeting.

If your SART is running well, you may want to shorten the meeting time, skip a month, or meet only when issues arise or not at all. Be careful, however, about interrupting the momentum of these meetings. Problems may develop, standards may shift, relationships may break down, and, ultimately, without team meetings, problems could go unresolved. If meeting attendance declines, consider developing an evaluation form to help you identify ways to improve the meeting process.

Create the Agenda

To maintain efficiency and encourage interagency participation, include agenda items that deal with all SART disciplines.

Tips to help meetings remain purposeful include the following:3

A clear agenda can reinforce your SART's purpose and foster collaboration. Add suggested times for each item on the agenda to help you move the discussion along. The meeting facilitator can bring an annotated agenda with notes about who will guide each section, what process will be used, and any other notes to ensure that team members move smoothly through each agenda item.

Maintain a consistent agenda format to help your SART keep its sense of direction and momentum, and conclude your meetings by setting a date for the next meeting (if meetings are not already prescheduled).

Promoting Teamwork

Many teams have found that joint training fosters teamwork. Team members who train together may find opportunities to discuss issues of mutual concern, both in the training itself and during breaks. Spending time together away from the immediate and constant demands of the office allows the team to focus on how it functions. Moreover, team members hear the same information, which improves their shared understanding of the challenges they face in their response to sexual violence and their ability to find solutions to those challenges.

Although not essential, social activities can strengthen your team. Simply combining lunch with a team meeting can serve this social purpose. Some teams sponsor picnics, awards banquets, and other activities to reinforce good working relationships.

Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Forming a Multidisciplinary Team To Investigate Child Abuse, 2000.

Facilitate Meetings

Facilitating a SART meeting may mean educating SART members in new ways of thinking about sharing information and resources. Because the SART concept is one of an equal partnership among agencies, the meeting facilitator needs to commit to shared decisionmaking.

Skillful facilitation will help your SART define and reach its goals, assess needs, and manage interpersonal dynamics. Here are some tips to help you facilitate your team meetings:

Read on for information about—

Tips for Successful Team Meetings

SARTs that develop ground rules emphasizing mutual respect and victim confidentiality and outlining methods of conflict resolution are better positioned to address issues proactively and sensitively. The following tips can help you hold successful team meetings:

  • Establish new member orientation: SARTs evolve and grow. Creating a welcome packet and orientation process for individuals joining an established SART will go a long way toward ensuring that new members feel valued, respected, and appreciated.
  • Promote shared leadership: If one agency or individual governs decisionmaking without consulting other team members, the SART, as a group, may not have the "ownership" needed to ensure success.
  • Respect different views and opinions: While diversity is one of the essential elements of collaborative efforts, it also results in differing and often unique perspectives about the best way to respond to sexual violence. To develop good working relationships, make sure to respect different roles, responsibilities, and perspectives.
  • Acknowledge small successes: Recognize and appreciate small benchmarks achieved on the road to larger goals. To acknowledge achievements publicly, consider putting out media releases or community newsletters or holding educational presentations for schools or community groups.
  • Prioritize SART goals: SART team members must be willing to break down barriers between disciplines and seek common ground to reach mutual SART goals rather than agency-specific objectives.
  • Welcome community diversity: Enhance outreach to traditionally underserved communities by including perspectives on gender, age, culture, disability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic and geographical variables in the response to sexual violence.
  • Include victim perspectives: Victims know firsthand what can improve the response to sexual violence. Including their recommendations when developing your protocols and guidelines will help to ensure the process is easy to access and navigate.
  • Promote sustainability: Consider the budgetary and staffing needs of participating agencies and develop a plan to ensure each agency has the resources to participate over the long term.
  • Remain patient: Take the time needed to create core values and a shared vision to anchor the team with a united purpose. For example, in Minnesota, teams started by working on nonthreatening issues. Minnesota has found that teams do not start achieving indepth systems changes until about 3 years into the process.4


The very nature of a SART requires that teams discuss differing approaches to issues and policies. To ensure that each member has an opportunity to be heard, you may need to brainstorm possible solutions. One of the primary benefits of brainstorming is that each team member can learn from the experiences and knowledge of other team members.

Team members can speak as ideas occur to them, through small group breakouts that report back to the entire team, or in a round-robin format during which team members are each given opportunities to speak.

To facilitate brainstorming5

Decisionmaking Strategies

Make sure to include time for all SART members to discuss the impact of potential decisions on their individual organizations before making any decisions. Also consider the likely outcomes, possible outcomes, and unintended consequences of each decision and keep in mind the following questions:

Read on for information about—

The Decisionmaking Process

Many steps are involved in the decisionmaking process, some of which are discussed below:6

The Right Tool

Decision Matrix for Agency Leaders Helps you visualize decision choices by charting possible solutions and the criteria to measure them.

Reaching a Decision

Reach decisions by consensus or through voting:7

Don't feel tied to one or the other ways to reach a decision. You can, for example, first try to reach a hard consensus. If that is unsuccessful, then the team can vote or study the issue further.

Overcome Conflict

Despite the best intentions of SART members to cooperate with one another, disagreement among disciplines is inevitable.8 Team members bring personal and professional experiences, agendas, beliefs, and perceptions into dialogues. If you cannot resolve conflicts or disagreements, you could diminish your SART's effectiveness.

Tips for Conflict Resolution

The mix of different preferences, histories, communication patterns, and professional experiences in your SART is bound to cause disagreements. Several basic strategies can help you resolve conflicts:

  • Be open: Address problems openly rather than allowing them to go unresolved.
  • Stay focused: Adhere to a decisionmaking philosophy grounded in what is best for the victim and what is in the best interest of the community.
  • Clarify interests: Encourage team members to explore the interests of opposing viewpoints and attempt to find common ground, all the while keeping the victim as a priority concern.
  • Generate options: If common ground does not seem apparent, brainstorm ways to think in new and creative directions. For example, prosecutors may oppose the idea of evidence-based prosecution of cases involving adult sexual assault. On the other hand, forensic medical examiners and advocates may think justice is best served by developing evidence-based strategies proactively. Instead of stopping at an impasse of opposing viewpoints, develop evidence-based protocols based on exceptional cases. This strategy would provide an opportunity for the team to work through issues proactively and give victims who are unable to testify full access to the criminal justice system.
  • Find the middle ground: Encourage those with opposing opinions to identify the most attractive alternative recommendation while factoring in costs, time, outcomes, and compliance issues.
  • Be patient: Recognize that some problems do not lend themselves to immediate resolution.

Read on to learn how to—

Evaluate the Cause

To help overcome disagreements, evaluate the underlying causes:9

Reason for Disagreement Potential Underlying Cause Possible Solutions
Need more information Repeated requests for additional detail could signal resistance rather than a need for more detail. Find out what level of detail is needed to make a decision.
Too many details During discussions, SART members may offer too many details that block discussions. Ask individuals what is the most important issue to address, and focus on that issue.
Not enough time Some team members may resist reaching a consensus because it takes too much time. Although time is often a problem, a preoccupation with it can signal resistance. Ask which topic should be given priority.
Not practical Members may feel the process of reaching consensus never works because SART members have different roles and responsibilities that cannot be negotiated. Ask if there are important issues that have been overlooked.
Confusion An inability to understand an issue under discussion can be a way to block the process. Clarify whether the confusion is about the issues or the process.
Silence Silence among team members doesn't imply agreement; it can be a sign that the process isn't working and that members are refusing to participate. Encourage everyone to share his or her ideas and opinions.
Moralizing When discussing controversial topics, team members may start to lecture, which can offend and stifle others. When members of the group are locked in an "either/or" conflict, calling for a "third way" that bridges and blends opposing viewpoints can be helpful.
Push for solutions Some members may complain that the ideas being discussed are impossible or may demand solutions rather than ideas. This could be about what members are unwilling to do rather than what cannot be done. Reframing, or providing another perspective, can often help individuals move forward.

Resolve Turf Issues

Turf issues arise when individuals perceive that their agency boundaries have been violated by a potential goal or a recommended procedure.


Although the goals of SARTs are essentially interdependent, a particular proposal or policy could be perceived to work against the interest of one or more of the SART agencies. For example, SARTs may recommend developing protocols and guidelines that include anonymous reporting options for victims. Agencies with public safety responsibilities may feel that anonymous reporting options pose a safety risk for the jurisdiction if victims choose not to cooperate with investigation and prosecution. On the other hand, advocacy agencies may view the process as absolutely necessary for a victim-centered response that gives victims more options.

Some of the concerns may be overcome by staying focused on the team's values and negotiating strategies for finding common ground. In this case, SART members may decide to research how other states have implemented anonymous reporting options. For example, a Massachusetts law states that10

. . . every physician attending, treating, or examining a victim of rape or sexual assault, or, whenever any such case is treated in a hospital/sanatorium/other institution, the manager/superintendent in charge shall report such case at once to the criminal history systems board and to the police of the town where the rape or sexual assault occurred but shall not include the victim's name, address, or any other identifying information. The report shall describe the general area where the attack occurred without victim identifiers.

This type of response provides for both victim confidentiality and public safety and could be a workable compromise.


One organization or agency may feel a degree of ownership over an activity. For example, SARTs may propose a guideline that permits victim advocates to attend detective interviews. If the policy had previously been one that excluded advocates, law enforcement could perceive the new proposal as one that conflicts with the investigative strategy. On the other hand, advocates may feel that support during interviews is a crucial option for victims. When SART recommendations lead to potential turf issues and competing SART responsibilities, the meeting facilitator may want to appoint an ad hoc committee to research and report back on the issues of concern.

For example, Section 679.04 of the California Penal Code states that a victim of sexual assault has the right to have victim advocates and a support person of the victim's choosing present at any interview by law enforcement authorities, district attorneys, or defense attorneys. However, law enforcement or the district attorney may exclude the support person from an interview if they determine that the presence of that individual would be detrimental to the purpose of the interview. This statute balances victims' rights with criminal justice objectives and may provide SARTs with enough flexibility to reach a compromise.

Keep the Momentum

You may periodically struggle to keep up the momentum of team meetings, particularly when your team is at an impasse. To counter this challenge, plan for both long- and short-term goals, restructure how and when meetings are held, or form workgroups to address specific issues or projects.

Another challenge to keeping momentum often occurs when key members leave. It may be that no one replaces them or no one takes over their role and team efforts stall. Often, communities find themselves trying to rejuvenate their SART when this happens. To offset this challenge, create written policies, interagency agreements, or bylaws to institutionalize the involvement of the key agencies the team needs to keep it going. Having these documents may make it easier to secure replacement representatives during staff transitions.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's 2005 National Needs Assessment, most SARTs do not have paid coordinators or funds for administrative assistance.11 Offset this challenge by rotating administrative responsibilities (e.g., taking meeting minutes, facilitating team discussions) and creating action plans so that responsibilities do not fall on any one person or agency. Ultimately, however, having a designated SART coordinator can do much to ensure that meetings stay focused and productive.

Momentum can also be lost when SART members feel their system has been improved. If the team created protocols and guidelines, team members may be tempted to consider their real work done, yet the essential goal of establishing guidelines is to monitor and evaluate the sexual assault response over time. As team goals are reached, consider expanding your membership to include new sectors of the community that can add vitality and new direction to the group.

Some SART members may feel that team meetings are too long or that they take them away from their work. To keep the meeting to a reasonable length, consider holding separate meetings for case reviews or conduct different meetings to discuss forensic medical and legal issues. The best meeting format is one that respects the time constraints that participants face and meets all their needs.

Conduct Case Reviews

Conducting routine case reviews allows SART team members to become used to discussing difficult issues and to learn to take an objective, problem-solving approach rather than having discussions that polarize agencies. Case reviews also are an ideal time to discuss cases that went well.

Reviewing cases during team meetings offers many benefits. These reviews can—

Read on for information about—

Purpose of Case Reviews

There are many reasons for you to hold case reviews during team meetings, including the following:

Effective Case Reviews

At each case review, team members should—

  • Come prepared with information on the sexual assault to be reviewed.
  • Share their information openly and honestly.
  • Seek solutions instead of blame.
  • Ask the following questions:
    • Is the investigation complete, or should we investigate further? If so, what information are we looking for? Do we need to discuss the case at our next meeting?
    • Should we provide services to family members, friends, or colleagues?
    • Which risk factors were involved in the assault?
    • How can we best enhance services to victims and improve criminal or civil justice outcomes (e.g., changes in services, technologies, agency procedures, laws)?
    • Who should lead implementation of our recommendations?

Source: Adapted from National Center for Child Death Review, 2005, A Program Manual for Child Death Review, 49.

Case Selections

Depending on caseloads and your SART's protocols or guidelines, opt for the following when selecting cases to review:


Despite federal HIPAA laws and state statutes designed to protect victims' confidentiality, there can be numerous problems associated with the way information is disclosed during case reviews. Before you can conduct case reviews at your team meetings, the victims whose cases you would like to review must sign confidentiality waivers. Before they sign the waivers, make sure they know which information will be shared, who will have access to the information, if and how it will be recorded, and who is responsible for keeping the information secure. (For more information about waivers, go to Intentional Confidentiality Waivers in this toolkit.)

Ultimately, you'll need to consider the reasons for sharing victim information during case reviews, whether victims could be harmed or embarrassed by the information shared, and whether case reviews consistently stay within the parameters of the victims' authorized consent.

Maintaining Confidentiality

According to the President's DNA Initiative: A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations

Case reviews usually include only those SART members typically involved in immediate response. But, even if all or most SART members were involved in a particular case and were aware of victims' identity, there is still no reason to reveal victims' identity during SART case reviews. SARTs may choose not to take notes about cases reviewed to ensure that the case-related information is not shared with anyone outside of the meeting. In situations where victims' identity might be easily deduced during a case review by members not involved in response (e.g., if there had only been one case handled during the time period being reviewed), comments should be kept as broad as possible and avoid case specifics. In communities where residents tend to know each other and news about crime travels quickly, it may be challenging to not inadvertently reveal victims' [identity] during SART case reviews. SARTs in these jurisdictions should consider how to best approach case reviews in a way that reduces the likelihood of revealing victims' identity.

Source: Office on Violence Against Women, "Appendix B: Creation of Sexual Assault Response Teams (footnote 4)," President's DNA Initiative: A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, 2004.


Community Organizational Assessment Tool
Helps guide discussions about how a team is functioning. Although the questions are structured for nonprofit board members, the form can be easily adapted for use by SARTs.

Collaboration: A Training Curriculum to Enhance the Effectiveness of Criminal Justice Teams: Instructional Manual
Assists multidisciplinary criminal justice teams in establishing or enhancing collaborative relationships. All teams can benefit from this curriculum, whether newly formed or firmly established. The manual includes information on team values, vision, problem identification, roles and responsibilities, concurrent discussion groups, group dynamics, team and project life cycles, and goals, objectives, and critical work activities.

Collaboration Toolkit: How to Build, Fix, and Sustain Productive Partnerships
Identifies nine components of a successful collaboration: stakeholders with a vested interested in the issue, trust among and between the partners, a shared vision and common goals, expertise among partners to solve community problems, teamwork strategies, open communication, motivated partners, sufficient means to implement and sustain the collaborative effort, and an action plan. As your SART develops and matures, revisit each component to assess the status of the collaboration.

Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Organizations, and Community and Juvenile Justice Settings
Advances the development of conflict resolution in educational and juvenile justice settings. SARTs can use the material as a reference tool.

Facilitation Skills for Managers
Trains managers who run meetings or lead task groups. The modules cover a range of topics, including forming groups, handling challenges, and completing the work.

Facilitation Skills for Trainers
Helps experienced trainers who want to develop group participation and discussion skills. The material includes information on learning behaviors, facilitation strategies, and dealing with conflict.

The Role of Facilitators and Staff in Supporting Collaborative Teams
Describes the skills and characteristics of effective facilitators. For example, the importance of helping to establish direction for the team, maximizing the contribution of all members, creating a team process that is efficient and focused on outcomes, keeping an accurate record of team members' ideas and decisions, and maintaining an environment that allows members to work productively and collaboratively.

Strategies for Building Effective Work Teams, Participant's Manual
Covers critical elements of teamwork and stages of team development. The manual provides ways to assess organizational and individual readiness for developing and using work teams, developing high performance work teams, implementing interventions to enhance team productivity, and creating strategies to overcome barriers to team development.


1 Correspondence with Juliane Johnson, Statewide Coordinator, nd, Kansas Sexual Assault Network, Wichita, Kansas.

2 American Prosecutors Research Institute and National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 1998, Confronting Violence Against Women: A Community Action Approach, Alexandria, VA: American Prosecutors Research Institute.

3 National Institute of Justice, 2004, "What Does It Take to Make Collaboration Work? Lessons Learned Through the Criminal Justice System Project," NIJ Journal 251.

4 Correspondence with Donna Dunn, nd, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

5 Michael Brassard and Diane Ritter, 1994, The Memory Jogger II: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement and Effective Planning, Section 5, Expertise 14, Salem, NH: Goal/QPC.

6 Many of the bulleted items in this list are adapted from Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2010, "Making Decisions," chapter 14, section 9 of Community Toolbox, Lawrence, KS: Work Group for Community Health and Development.

7 Work Group for Community Health and Development, "Making Decisions."

8 American Prosecutors Research Institute and National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Confronting Violence Against Women: A Community Action Approach, 34.

9 Adapted from Peter Block, 1999, "Understanding Resistance," Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

10 "Reporting Treatment of Victim of Rape or Sexual Assault; Penalty," General Laws of Massachusetts, Part 1, Title 16, Chapter 112: Section 12A1/2.

11 National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2006, Report on the National Needs Assessment of Sexual Assault Response Teams, Enola, PA: National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

12 New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, 2004, Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, Second Edition, Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety.

13 Kristin Littel, 2001, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Programs: Improving the Community Response to Sexual Assault Victims, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.

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