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Diversity in Sexual Assault Response Teams

By Fatima Jayoma

Welcome to the Rural Realities Blog! This blog centers around the theme of team diversity. Team diversity is one of the internal factors discussed in our Ten-Factor Framework for Sexual Assault Response Team Effectiveness resource.

When discussing diversity within a sexual assault response team (SART), there are multiple ways to consider and prioritize diverse membership. First, there is multidisciplinary diversity. SART work requires members to think beyond their own organizations and disciplines. Therefore, teams should prioritize including a diverse range of disciplines within the team.

SARTs can encompass representatives from a wide spectrum of disciplines, including advocacy, prosecution, medical services, law enforcement, corrections, faith-based programs, cultural centers, community leaders, and more. So, the question is, how can a team work towards having a diverse spectrum of disciplines?

  • Community Resource Mapping: SARTs can engage in the community resource mapping activity. This activity serves multiple purposes. At its core, the community resource mapping activity assists SARTs in identifying and organizing available resources for victims/survivors of sexual violence. This activity can be beneficial for teams aiming to identify those responding to sexual violence in their community. For more information about community resource mapping, refer to this guide.
  • Community Needs Assessment: SARTs can conduct a community needs assessment. Community needs assessments can play an important role in identifying potential team members for a SART. Like community resource mapping, needs assessments serve multiple purposes. For SARTs aiming to enhance discipline diversity, a community needs assessment can be valuable in understanding the needs and gaps within a community. The results of an assessment can reveal where expertise or perspectives might be missing in the team.
  • Focused/Targeted Recruitment: SARTs can work towards building relationships with specific groups or communities that are currently underrepresented in the team. This strategy involves identifying the areas where the team lacks diversity in terms of disciplines, backgrounds, or perspectives. By intentionally recruiting communities that are currently not well-represented in the team, SARTs can tap into a variety of networks and perspectives that might be missing.
  • Evaluation: SARTs can engage in evaluation work to assess team membership. Evaluating the structure and composition of the team can help SARTs identify if the team is representative of the various needs and challenges related to the response.

These are just four strategies. Of course, there are other activities and strategies that teams can take on.

As mentioned earlier in this blog, there are multiple ways to consider and prioritize diverse membership. Another way to think about diversity within a SART is individual diversity. Individual diversity is just as important as multidisciplinary diversity. All SARTs should include members whose identities reflect the full spectrum of community members being served by the team. If every team member on the team had a similar set of lived experiences, the team would have a limited perspective regarding the community’s experiences and needs. Additionally, making the effort to ensure a wide range of diversity among team members is especially important when it comes to the team’s capacity to stay connected with the community it belongs to.

In addition to the strategies listed above, there are additional strategies that SARTs can take on to improve individual member diversity.

  • Census Data: SARTs can review their community‚Äôs census data to ensure that the team is reflective of the community. The outcome of this activity could be the addition of new members. Be mindful of the risk of tokenization. While it is important for SARTs to strive for diverse community 07representation, members should not feel like they have to speak on behalf of entire populations.
  • Community Outreach: SARTs can attend or participate in community events to gain a better understanding of the resources available to victims/survivors in the community. This is also an opportunity for existing SART members to learn from and connect with new partners.
  • Cultivate Relationships: SARTs can invest time strengthening relationships with culturally specific organizations and community leaders. Like community outreach, this is an opportunity to sustain and strengthen existing connections.
  • Team Structure and Representation: SARTs can look into the structure of the team, which includes members and leadership. Ensuring that leadership and decision-making roles within the team reflect a commitment to diversity can help create a strong foundation for the recruitment and retention of members who might be underrepresented.

Again, these are just a few strategies. As you work towards any of these strategies, remember that building a diverse team is an ongoing effort. If you would like to brainstorm additional strategies or have other questions, please feel free to contact us at svji@mncasa.org.

This project was supported by Grant No. 15JOVW-22-GK-04024-RURA awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.