SARTs and PREA: Important Considerations
It is important for SARTs to take into consideration the ways services for victims/survivors in custody can differ from those for victims/survivors in the community. Victims/survivors in custody often live with the perpetrator, or, in cases of staff on inmate violence, live in a place where the perpetrator has institutional authority over them. Inmate-survivors have more difficulty accessing community services and accessing services confidentially, and they may have an increased concern about facing retaliation from others for reporting. Fear of retaliation can prevent victims/survivors from talking with others in the facility, or using programming and resources available within the facility (e.g., in-house mental health services).
There are important places for SARTs and corrections to take into account the different factors involved in the response to sexual violence in facilities. These include:
Looking at what is available to victims/survivors who do not want to report that they have experienced sexual violence. How can they access victim advocacy confidentially? How can they make a report anonymously? How can they make an anonymous report to an outside agency (and who is that agency)? If the outside agency is a member of the SART team (e.g., law enforcement, child protective services), what happens when that anonymous report is made?
Forensic Medical Exams. These may occur on-site at the facility, but most often occur at a medical facility off-site. The correctional facility may have procedures that involve strip-searching inmates on their way out and back into the facility, keeping the inmate-survivor in handcuffs during the exam, and having a corrections officer monitoring continuously throughout the exam. Although it may be common practice for other forensic medical exams, inmate-survivors may not be allowed food or a shower at the end of the exam. SARTs and correctional staff can work together to make forensic medical exams as victim-centered and trauma-informed as possible. Questions SARTs and correctional staff can ask together include:
- Would it be possible to remove strip-searching from the protocol for inmates going to and from a forensic medical exam?
- How will we ensure correctional staff accompanying the victim/survivor to the exam are not the perpetrator?
- During the forensic medical exam, can the correctional staff alternate between visual and audio monitoring as appropriate, to provide more privacy for the inmate-survivor?
- How will a victim advocate be made available to the survivor throughout the exam, and will they have time to talk with the advocate immediately after?
The investigation process following a report, and investigatory interviews. The investigation process may involve a number of SART members, including correctional facilities and their agency’s investigators, law enforcement, prosecution, forensic medical examiners, and victim advocacy.
- What will the investigation process look like?
- How will advocates be provided to inmate-survivors for investigatory interviews, and for emotional support services throughout the investigation process?
- How will victims/survivors be provided updates and information throughout and following the investigation process?
- How can these updates be provided in an accessible and trauma-informed way?
This month’s blog series was written by Sophia Berg, yearlong fellow with MNCASA focusing on rural advocacy, SARTs, and PREA.