SART TOOLKIT: Resources for Sexual Assault Response Teams
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What Is Victim Justice?: A Checklist

No intervention that takes power away from survivors can possibly foster their recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in their best interest.1 Justice is achieved when all stakeholders are satisfied with the process and the outcome is fair to all participants.2 The following recommendations may help shape or improve your victim-centered policies and practices.3

Key Terms

The following terms can help you develop a common language and context for a victim-centered response to sexual violence:

Multicultural Terms

Acculturation: Adapting or borrowing traits from another culture. It includes merging of traditions as a result of prolonged contact. It should be noted that individuals from culturally diverse groups may desire varying degrees of acculturation into the dominant culture.6

Bicultural: The ability to understand and function effectively in two cultural environments.

Bilingual: The ability to speak effectively in two languages.

Cultural accessibility: Providing services that welcome members of specific cultures. Making services culturally accessible requires SARTs to value diversity, assess services for their application to specific populations, institutionalize culturally specific service delivery, and commit to ongoing training and collaboration with culturally specific organizations.

Cultural competence: An ongoing awareness, sensitivity, regard, and effective response to diverse populations. It requires developing cultural knowledge, resources, and agency flexibility to better meet the needs of underserved populations.

Culture: A system of shared beliefs, values, and customs that members of a society or group use to shape and influence their perceptions and behavior.7 Culture is "an integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs, courtesies, rituals, manners of interacting, and roles; relationships and expected behaviors of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group; and the ability to transmit the above to succeeding generations."8

Disability: According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals are considered to have a disability if they (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) have a record of such impairments; or (3) are regarded as having physical or mental conditions that limit the ability to perform a major life activity such as walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, thinking, or working.

Diversity: The differences or unique characteristics among individuals and within communities. Diversity includes differences of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and status in society.

Ethnicity: A large group of people classified according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.

Holistic: A comprehensive approach that recognizes and addresses multiple components of victims' lives. A holistic SART response considers how the medical and legal choices of victims can directly affect their healing process. SARTs that consider a range of health care and legal options and address victims' physical, mental, and spiritual needs simultaneously provide holistic care.

Interpreter: An individual trained and certified in facilitating oral, written, or manual communication between two or more people who speak different languages.

Linguistic competence: The capacity to communicate effectively and convey information in a manner that is easily understood by diverse populations.

Multilingual: The ability to speak effectively in two or more languages.

Race: A tribe, people, or nation. The concept of race as used by the U.S. Census Bureau reflects self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify.

Underserved: A group of people identified through statistics, strategic planning, or other systematic processes as having a need for and not presently receiving adequate information, services, or support.

Trauma- and Healing-Related Terms

Acute stress disorder: Symptoms include flashbacks, a weakened immune system, fatigue, anxiety, hypersensitivity, generalized fear, and depression. The symptoms last from a minimum of 2 days to a maximum of 4 weeks following a traumatic event.

Affect: A pattern of observable behaviors that express victims' emotions. Common examples of affect are sadness, elation, and anger. Affect is different from mood (which refers to a more sustained emotional state).

Anniversary reaction: An emotional response on the anniversary of a traumatic event. In some cases, victims may not consciously recall why they are feeling differently on that date. A common anniversary reaction is temporary depression.

Autonomic arousal: A physical response that bypasses the thinking process and can include an elevated heart rate, dilation of pupils, perspiring, and other fear responses. Victims may reexperience autonomic arousal when remembering their sexual assaults.

Counterintuitive behavior:9 Behaviors of sexual assault victims that conflict with the behavior the public expects. Without further explanation, these behaviors can translate into reasons to doubt victims' accounts of their sexual assaults.

Flashbacks: A type of spontaneous recall common to victims in the aftermath of trauma.

Flight or fight response: An automatic response following a perceived threat to survival. The response is activated in the part of the brain that regulates metabolic and autonomic function and prepares muscles to act.

Flooding: Flooding is the process of becoming overwhelmed by intrusive emotions, sensory experiences, or an intense reliving of a traumatic event.

Healing: The process of recovering from an act of violence or trauma.

Hypervigilance: This symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder may include an exaggerated startle response and/or unusual sensitivity to sounds and sights in the environment.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD):10 A psychiatric disorder that can occur following sexual assault or other trauma and marked by clear biological changes and psychological symptoms. Victims who suffer from PTSD often relive the traumatic experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged from others. The symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life. For example, PTSD is often linked to depression, substance abuse, memory and cognition difficulties, and other problems of physical and mental health.

Rape trauma syndrome (RTS): A spectrum of symptoms victims may experience after a sexual assault. Victims may feel the effects of RTS immediately after the assault or even weeks or months later. RTS has recently been replaced by the term "counterintuitive behavior."

Startle reaction: A symptom of both posttraumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder in which an individual reacts strongly to new and unexpected stimuli in the environment. An example of a startle reaction would be jumping out of a chair when hearing a door slam.

Trigger: An event, object, person, and so forth that sets a series of thoughts in motion or reminds a victim of some aspect of his or her sexual assault. The person may be unaware of what is triggering the memory.

Vicarious trauma: The experiences of service providers who become overly empathic after listening to accounts of abuse or sexual violence by victims. Symptoms of vicarious trauma are similar to those experienced by individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder and include numbing, hypervigilance, sleep difficulties, and intrusive thoughts of traumas described by victims.


1 California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1999, Support for Survivors: Training for Sexual Assault Counselors, Sacramento, CA: California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 129.

2 International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2000, What Do Victims Want? Effective Strategies to Achieve Justice for Victims of Crime, 1999 IACP Summit on Victims of Crime, Alexandria, VA: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 7–6.

3 Ibid., 9 and 24.

4 Jane Sigmon and Christine Edmunds, 2002, "Victimization of Individuals with Disabilities," National Victim Assistance Academy Textbook, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.

5 Ibid.

6 National Center for Cultural Competence, 2004, Bridging the Cultural Divide in Health Care Settings: The Essential Role of Cultural Broker Programs, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, Georgetown University Medical Center, National Center for Cultural Competence, VII–VIII.

7 Glossary of terms in the State Sexual Assault Plan, Paving the Way to a Better Tomorrow, The Plan for 2003-2008, a project of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

8 T. Goode, S. Sockalingam, S. Bronheim, M. Brown, and W. Jones, 2000, A Planner's Guide: Infusing Principles, Content and Themes Related to Cultural and Linguistic Competence into Meetings and Conferences, Washington, DC: National Center for Cultural Competence, 1.

9 Jennifer Long, "Explaining Counterintuitive Victim Behavior in Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Cases," The Voice 1(4).

10 National Center for PTSD, 2010, What Is PTSD?, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD.

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