The new Sexual Assault Response Team protocol ensures an effective, collaborative response to sexual assault

The neighbor was used to the yelling and fighting, but the screaming next door provoked new urgency as she dialed 911.

It was the third domestic call to the tidy residence that month, and as before, the commotion stopped when the officer knocked on the door and announced a police presence.

Inside, a woman — bruised and battered — sat forlornly at the kitchen table. Her sullen boyfriend was slouched on the couch. Two children hid in a bedroom — terrified.

The man was cuffed and arrested. Statements were taken. An investigation began.

The woman was transported to the hospital for examination, and in the morning — after summoning all the courage she could muster during the course of a sleepless night — would make a desperate call to a sexual abuse hotline.

The boyfriend — following a short stint behind bars — would appear before a judge, and would be released, a trial pending.

Just like last time.

The police did their work, Saving Grace did theirs, and the court did what was required. However, it would have been easier and more efficient — and the victim better cared for — if everyone had used the same playbook.

Such is the motivation behind Crook County’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) protocol, signed during a ceremony held on Tuesday at the Prineville Police Department.

“The purpose of the Crook County SART is to ensure effective, consistent, comprehensive, and collaborative response to sexual assault,” said Rebecca Swearingen, Assistant Executive Director of Saving Grace (formerly Central Oregon Battering and Rape Alliance). “The SART follows a victim-centered approach that prioritizes the needs of sexual assault victims and brings responsible persons to justice.”

According to Swearingen, the SART protocol will give members direction in how they deal with sexual assault, and provides for a long-needed consistency between them.

“The protocols give an outline of how each of the members of the SART respond to sexual assault in Crook County by the services they provide and the ways they conduct business,” she said. “We meet together and work through the processes of how sexual assault is addressed in Crook County, plan and conduct awareness activities, discuss relevant topics, provide training opportunities and discussions.”

Local SART members include the City of Prineville Police Department, Crook County Community Corrections, Crook County District Attorney’s Office, Crook County District Attorney Victim’s Assistance Office, Crook County Health Department, Crook County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, and Saving Grace.

Although the protocol was prepared during the last two years, Swearingen said the SART concept has been in the works for nearly a decade.

“Crook County actually began taking part in SART meetings and discussions of this type nearly 10 years ago, when the three counties of Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook came together to discuss sexual assault response in Central Oregon,” she said. “That local effort, at that time, was led by folks in Deschutes County. At some point, we decided that it would make the most sense for each county to separate and meet on their own. The legislative direction (ORS 147.401) mandating counties to have SARTs didn’t come around until recently. That legislation did give a requirement for written protocols, which we did not have completed to that point, but were more than happy to comply with.”

Preparation of Crook County’s SART protocol was also expedited by a 2012 federal grant, through the Department of Justice (DOJ). According to the DOJ website, the program's goals are to enhance the safety of sexual assault victims, and to encourage collaboration between affected agencies and advocates.

For Muriel DeLaVergne-Brown, director of the Crook County Health Department, the protocol is all about women's health.

“We really want women to be healthy and have the availability of services if they need help,” she explained. “That’s part of the reason this is a public health issue. It’s important that we address this in the community.”

Prineville Police Department’s Captain Michael Boyd enthusiastically supports the new SART protocol.

“It helps us to more consistently deal with things,” he said. “And it helps us to have a really solid road map for officers in training. And then every person in the process really understands that they’re part of the bigger picture.”

Boyd said his department already doses a pretty thorough job — the SART protocol just makes it that much better. Where previously officers had to be more diligent in following through with their cases, the protocol creates a more solid, seamless system.

“It’s less work and smarter,” he said, “and more thorough in how things are resolved, and more thorough in providing help to victims.”

Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley agreed.

“We’ve kind of operated along these same lines all along. However, the SART protocols here have firmed it up, and it’s a statement, and it’s a written process for what we’ve already been using.”

He also re-iterated that the protocol is victim-centered at its core.

“We always respect the victim. They’ve already been through a traumatic incident. We don’t need to put them through another traumatic incident afterward. We’re just firming it up, and putting it in writing, where everyone has a clear understanding of how these type cases will be handled.”

People in law enforcement have a unique, often heart-breaking window on the world. After 30 years as a cop, Boyd has seen his share.

“The most horrific scenes I’ve ever gone to have been related to sexual assault and domestic violence. All we can do to stop that, the better this whole community’s going to be.

“I’ve never seen terror in people’s eyes like the terror that’s associated with domestic abuse, especially children. This is a great thing for Crook County. We're not going to solve the problem — we’re just stopping the terror.

“I'm very happy with it. It makes perfect sense to me.”

Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins gave Swearingen much of the credit for shepherding the protocol, and said she’s pleased with the outcome.

“The thing that Rebecca told us all the time, and re-emphasized, was that we wanted to have a document that was workable, and that we wanted, in Crook County, to have the best possible response to sexual assault by holding offenders accountable, and supporting survivors at every step of the way. These protocols really reflect that.

“This was truly a community effort,” she concluded, “recognizing that in Crook County we don’t tolerate sexual assault.”

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