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San Diego County SART—California

In 1991, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors established the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) model as the standard of care for victims of sexual assault in San Diego County. The team consists of law enforcement personnel, forensic examiners, sexual assault victim advocates, forensic laboratory staff, and representatives from the District Attorney's Office.

SART has two primary purposes: (1) to provide emotional support for victims of sexual assault and (2) to ensure accurate evidence collection to promote the apprehension and prosecution of sexual assault perpetrators.

Making the Idea a Reality
At the request of the director of the Department of Health Services, a report on the current status of sexual assault examinations in San Diego County was presented to the Board of Supervisors in November 1990. The report described a fragmented system of care for sexual assault victims, including inconsistent access, availability, timeliness, and accuracy of evidentiary examination processes. To address these problems, the San Diego Board of Supervisors and the Department of Health Services convened a multijurisdictional, multidisciplinary task force. The task force was asked to investigate the extent and nature of issues impeding consistent and appropriate processes for sexual assault response and to recommend improvements.

Since 1991, San Diego County has had a SART team, which has served more than 7,000 victims of sexual assault who had evidentiary examinations. Approximately 500 evidentiary examinations are performed per year.

Currently, the county has only two designated medical forensic exam facilities. Previously, the county had three exam facilities, but one facility closed due to low volume.

Benefits to Victims
The team response provides emotional support for victims and helps them avoid delays and repetitive and unnecessary questioning.

Benefits to Victim Service Professionals
Once the SART system was implemented, law enforcement agencies developed contracts with designated hospitals committed to performing comprehensive examinations for victims using specially trained forensic nurse examiners and patient advocates. The coordinated response and interagency memoranda of understanding streamlined the process while ensuring that correct and consistent evidence is gathered for the apprehension and prosecution of sex offenders.

Evaluation Efforts
A confidential questionnaire, available in English and Spanish, was developed to elicit SART program feedback from victims. The questionnaire and a prestamped, preaddressed envelope are given to victims at the completion of the medical forensic examination. Responses are mailed directly to the County of San Diego's Division of Emergency Medical Services and entered into a database. The information is stored anonymously and shared with SART program personnel. The questionnaires ask victims to rate the services provided by law enforcement personnel, forensic examiners, and advocates as excellent, good, fair, or poor. Additionally, there is space to provide written comments for each agency.

Lessons Learned

  • Communication among all disciplines is crucial. Monthly multidisciplinary meetings are a key to success. Transitions in staff have been a challenge to the collaborative effort. It takes time to develop trust and understanding.
  • SARTs need funding. The San Diego SART has hosted fundraisers to help with operational costs for equipment, supplies, and so forth.
  • Data collection is important. It provides a benchmark for evaluating needs and services and reveals where gaps in services exist.

San Diego SART Standards of Practice
San Diego SART Systems Review Committee Report  

Contact Information
San Diego County Sexual Assault Response Team
c/o Division of Emergency Medical Services
6255 Mission Gorge Road
San Diego, CA 92120