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SARTs in Times of Crisis: Responding to Sexual Violence during COVID-19

I am writing this during the first week of mandatory work-from-home, put in place as a precautionary measure for the current Coronavirus pandemic that is disrupting our world.  As someone who provides training and technical assistance, much of my work can continue remotely. I simply have to navigate the newfound homeschooling of my 4th grader as I try to keep moving forward with work. However, I know that most of the people I provide help to aren’t able to pause their work. The members of the SART are all crucial – law enforcement, medical providers, prosecution, advocacy, and so many other people who help victims/survivors find healing and justice while working to hold people who cause harm accountable.

How does the current health pandemic impact the work of SARTs?

From what we are hearing from people on the ground doing collaborative work, this is an eerie and difficult time. But, people are trying to still do the work that they can. During times of natural disasters and other crises, sexual violence can increase and challenges in sexual violence response work arise in part because of increased isolation, depleted resources,and the atmosphere of chaos that permeates communities.

In these times, it is easy for the work of teams to be pushed aside. Sometimes, that is okay. Sometimes, the pressing work and response to the natural disaster or other crisis has to pause certain things. But, victims/survivors still need an adequate response.

Here are some considerations for teams on responding during the coronavirus:

  • It is okay to cancel regular meetings. If possible, consider remote meeting options such as a video conferencing platform like Skype or Zoom. Phone calls and emails (as much as teams often don’t like to communicate in those ways), can help the collaborative work continue. With that, know that some of the work of the team might be put on hold. You might not be able to finish your protocol revision in the timeline you had wanted. That is okay. Do what you can, but be kind to yourself if things get delayed.
  • Some of you might have extra time to be doing work on your SART, including long-term planning. It is okay to do this, even if others don’t have the time or capacity to do that sort of work. We are also here to help if you need someone to bounce ideas off of, to think strategically about the systems-change work in the future, to do a virtual meeting or training, or to start to plan for an in-person event in the future!
  • Be patient with people. Recognize how the different disciplines are being impacted. Advocacy, law enforcement, medical providers, prosecution, probation, and all the other parts of your SART are impacted in different ways. So figure out how to continue your work and how you can help all of the other parts of the response as well. Victims/survivors still need us to be communicating and collaborating.
  • Talk to your funders! If your team is funded, make sure you are communicating with your contact to talk about priorities and sustainability through this time. Having realistic and transparent conversations is important.
  • Victims/survivors still deserve an equitable response, even in this time of crisis. Work with your team to see how things are being institutionalized and how information about sexual assault is being spread in their organizations. We are hearing about many communities where the information a survivor gets drastically changes based on who they talk to. While it may be overwhelming for some disciplines to think about sexual assault, there may be palatable ways of making sure that victims/survivors are getting what they need and that the case process is still being worked on.
  • There are so many resources out there to help! It can be overwhelming trying to find relevant information in a sea of emails or even to know where to look for answers. But so many organizations and people are out there trying to help teams and programs. You don’t have to become an expert in technology or data privacy laws. Engage with local, statewide, and national experts to help. If you don’t know who to ask, ask us and we will help guide you. This is a time when many communities are showing their creativity and resilience to best help victims/survivors.