Getting SMARTer at helping victimsA team created in 2007 is taking big steps toward improving how the community - including advocates, law enforcement and medical personnel - helps sexual assault victims and survivors.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
A team created in 2007 is taking big steps toward improving how the community - including advocates, law enforcement and medical personnel - helps sexual assault victims and survivors.
Goodhue County's Sexual Assault Multidisciplinary Action Response Team is currently working on multi-agency protocols that will provide the foundation for a sexual assault response program focused on victims and survivors.
The protocols will be the first ever written agreements in Goodhue County to specify how professionals will interact to provide services to sexual violence victims and survivors.
"The idea is that we can't change the past but we're creating something for the future," said Emily Baldwin, interim executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, formerly known as Goodhue/Wabasha Sexual Assault Services. "Nobody is saying anyone is doing a bad job, we're just saying we can make it better."
The SMART was organized three years ago to ensure victims receive complete, consistent, culturally appropriate and sustained support.
Since then, the group has held community forums, spoken with victims and used feed back from anonymous surveys to get a feel for the county's current system.
Their findings were recently released in a community needs assessment, a first-of-its-kind report analyzing the county's current sexual assault support services. SMART members created five goals to address the county's shortcomings.
• Improve the county's medical services program by implementing a sexual assault nurse examiner program to ensure a standard way of collecting information from victims at hospitals.
That may take time, Baldwin said, but the push to improve in that area has already begun.
"Just because it's not going to happen tomorrow doesn't mean we can't improve upon that service aspect right now," she said.
• Reduce barriers victims experience by ensuring culturally appropriate services like a translator and written services.
• Support better transportation so victims have access to services like medical and legal appointments.
• Make sure professionals have culturally appropriate training so they can help all residents.
• Ensure best practices training for SMART members and other stakeholders.
"The issues we identified are not necessarily things the SMART can fix," said Kris Kvols, president of the Hope Coalition and SMART member. "But it's great information to have and work with professionals on."
SMART members are working to get the assessment in the hands of law enforcement and corrections officers, medical staff, attorney and other community members.
"A lot of these protocols come out of mistakes made in the past, said SMART member Darelynn Lehto. "We don't want to further victimize the victim."
The protocol is developed using an eight-step cyclical process so it can help fit the community's changing needs.
The protocols will be reviewed once the eight steps are complete.
Since the SMART was formed, team members said they have learned a lot more about other stakeholders in the community.
"The process has helped everyone become more aware of what each is doing," Baldwin said.
The group said part of ensuring better support for victims is talking about sexual violence with community members as well.
Kvols said more people tend to report sexual assaults when there is an open dialogue. The more reports there are, the more cases are prosecuted and the more criminals are convicted and punished.
"A lot of this is about prevention because it's creating community discussion," Baldwin said. "The cheapest part of prevention is an educated and well-informed community."