Continued from Frontline Spring 2012...
Is the team a figurehead or are victims actually coming forward to report in greater numbers? When they do, are they being treated with dignity and respect by police, prosecutors, and medical staff? Do they have access to advocacy throughout the process, and are their cases being prosecuted?
Baltimore City has been undergoing a transformation in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults in the past year and a half. The unfounded rate of sexual assaults has dropped by 95%; the Sex Offense Unit received strong new leadership, as well as additional detectives to investigate sexual crimes; all partners received substantial training, and the number of sexual assaults reported, conviction rates, number of years sentenced, and probation times are all up from 2010. How is progress of this nature possible in such a short time, especially when things had remained stagnant for so long? Especially when your City is known to have had the highest unfounded rate of rapes in the nation just two years ago?
It should be encouraging to all SARTS to know that it has largely been the work of the SART that has made the difference. It would have been easy to make superficial changes upon being publicly shamed and held accountable for such mistakes. But the inclusion of outside groups such as the state sexual assault coalition and the city’s rape crisis center, along with the determined and dedicated internal responders, allowed substantive work to happen. The team reorganized and rejuvenated in June 2010 and set to work quickly by acquiring funding, hiring a SART Coordinator, and creating a work plan. Subcommittees including Best Practices, Audit Committee, and Outreach have done the bulk of real work, collaborating to create an MOU, changing response protocol, updating police SOPs, creating new expectations for investigations, creating and executing a city-wide awareness campaign, and auditing over 125 sexual assault/child abuse cases.
Advocates as well as victims themselves have recently reported positive experiences overall with the handling of their cases and the treatment they received. This is well expressed in the words of one advocate who recently wrote “[the detectives] showed definite concern for these victims. The younger victim I saw couldn't remember much of what happened because she was drinking, and I can't help but think that if this were the same Sex Offense Unit from the past, her case would have died right there. I was so impressed with how they spoke about this case. They were very sympathetic and concerned about her!” Along with trends in reporting and prosecuting, this is how a SART can measure its success and effectiveness.
By: Heather Brantner, MS. Ms. Brantner serves as the full-time SART Coordinator for the Baltimore City Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) funded through the Baltimore City Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.
to download the PDF of this article.