2010-09-30 / Local & State

Sexual Assault Response Team To Offer Services

By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Having witnessed a positive outcome in neighboring Franklin County, officials from Women In Need have taken their knowledge and know-how in responding to situations involving sexual assault and launched their own Sexual Assault Response Team here in Fulton County.

Having gotten under way this spring from its home base at Fulton County Medical Center, the Sexual Assault Response Team, also known as SART, offers a multi-disciplinary team approach in comforting victims of sexual assault who are 13 years old and above. In addition to providing comfort immediately following an assault, the SART team, comprised of a sexual assault counselor/advocate, law enforcement officials and a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner, also aids the victim during the healing and closure process.

Barb Channing, executive director of Women In Need (WIN), shared with the “News” that her organization, in conjunction with Your Safe Haven in Bedford County, was able to apply for a competitive, three-year grant.

Given the sizeable expenses related to manning and operating SART, WIN was fortunate to be awarded a total of two out of 28 available grants, which resulted in a total of $300,000 for Fulton and an additional $375,000 for Franklin County. Your Safe Haven, which operates a domestic violence shelter, received $375,000 and will use the money to reimburse WIN for its share of SART expenses.

WIN uses the much-needed money to train several sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) and maintain a 24-hour, sevenday a-week on-call rotation in both Fulton and Bedford counties. Four additional nurses are slated to be trained and on-call by the conclusion of 2010.

All SANE, according to Channing, are contracted directly through WIN. As a result, even if a particular SANE is no longer employed at Fulton County Medical Center or UPMC Bedford Memorial, it is likely they will maintain their contract with WIN for a longer length of time.

WIN Director of Community Service Lisa Dougherty said even though the concept behind SART provides advantages to all involved, the top priority has always been to provide better victim services, from confidentiality to privacy. From a prosecution and law enforcement standpoint, SART also allows for a more reliable means of evidence collection and expert witness testimony in the event of trials.

WIN’s Fulton County Service manager, Eric Williams, said that prior to the arrival of SART in Fulton County, victims of sexual assault would often find themselves repeating their tragic stories to an array of officials. SART typically allows the counselor/ advocate to be first on scene in order to offer counseling and comfort, with the SANE and law enforcement officials following suit.

“It’s a very short response time now,” pointed out Fulton County District Attorney Travis Kendall and crime Cpl. William Baker of the Pennsylvania State Police, Mc- Connellsburg substation. The duo made reference to incidents prior to the arrival of SART, and noted victims could have had experienced a prolonged wait in the emergency room or could have been transported to another medical facility, thereby delaying the examination process.

While the collection of viable evidence should occur within 120 hours, “sooner is always better,” notes the group, which offers valuable tips to victims of sexual assault, including:

• Don’t wait! Seek treatment at a hospital immediately!

• Don’t shower or wash your hands. • Don’t change your clothes. • Don’t brush your teeth.

In addition to helping with SART, Women In Need offers a variety of services such as working with police, filing a protection-fromabuse order and establishing a safety plan for abuse victims. In fiscal year 2009- 10, WIN offered services to 311 victims and families in Fulton County as well as 126 education/prevention programs to 2,306 individuals. Safe housing was also given over a period of 407 days to a total of 16 women and 11 children. Furthermore, the 24-hour hotline answered 242 calls, and WIN’s volunteer base donated 771 hours locally.

Additional information on WIN and its services can be obtained by contacting the organization at 1-800- 621-6660.

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