Innovative Partnerships Improve Services for Crime Victims

Mon May 23, 2011 3:58pm EDT

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Innovative Partnerships Improve Services for Crime Victims

PR Newswire

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This op-ed is by Joye Frost, Acting Director, Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice.

On May 25th, almost 1,000 practitioners from across the country converge in Austin at the sixth National Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Training Conference. This biennial training event, sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), demonstrates how federal funding and resources, coupled with local, tribal and state innovation, are reshaping our Nation's response to victims of sexual assault.

Statistics on sexual assault are staggering. A 2006 study funded by DOJ showed 18 percent of women and 3 percent of men experience some form of sexual victimization during their lifetime. Victimization rates of some populations, such as individuals with developmental disabilities and Native American women and children, are even higher. The mental health consequences of sexual victimization are sobering. While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is typically associated with combat exposure, the estimated risk of developing PTSD for rape survivors is 49 percent, while 17 percent of women who are raped attempt suicide.

While the statistics are challenging, we know community responses to a sexually victimized child or adult make a difference. Over 30 years ago, women protested the abysmal treatment of sexual assault victims, established rape crisis centers, and trained nurses, typically called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs), to provide compassionate, expert forensic medical exams. Building on successful efforts of victim advocates and SANEs, communities use the SART model, a multi-disciplinary, coordinated team response, and make victims' needs a priority, hold offenders accountable, and promote public safety. SARTs adapt easily to the needs of any community and core members typically include victim advocates, SANEs, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and forensic science personnel. Victim satisfaction is higher when SARTs are involved. SANE and SART responses enhance the quality of victim health care, improve the quality of forensic evidence, and ultimately lead to increased prosecution rates.

Texas is a leader in changing the landscape for victims of sexual violence. One of the first three SANE programs in the nation began in Amarillo, Texas, in 1979. In 2004, the Austin Police Department's Sex Crimes Unit developed its motto "We Believe" as part of a national public awareness campaign to address victims' fear of not being believed or being blamed for their victimization. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault was the first state sexual assault coalition to develop a Cultural Awareness Certification program for service providers. The Existe Ayuda (Help Exists) Toolkit, a resource for practitioners nationwide who work with Spanish-speaking sexual assault victims will premiere at the SART Conference on May 25th by Arte Sana, a Latina/o advocacy organization in Dripping Springs, Texas.

As a native Texan and the Acting Director of OVC, I am proud of OVC's role in supporting organizations like these in Texas and across the Nation to ensure that crime victims of any age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or ability receive lifeline services and support. OVC administers the Crime Victims Fund, established by Congress in 1984 as a major source of funding for victim services. Since 1987, OVC has distributed over eight billion dollars directly to the states to serve over 67 million crime victims, including millions of adult and child victims of sexual violence. Not a single dollar comes from taxpayers; instead, the funds are criminal fines and penalties collected from convicted federal offenders due to the diligence of DOJ employees and federal court personnel. OVC retains some funding to support cutting-edge training and technical assistance, including the SART Conference. First held in 2001 in San Antonio, the SART Conference returns to Texas 10 years later and closes this year with a public forum on Friday, May 27th at 3 p.m.. The speakers include Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, and other national, state and local leaders, including Susan B. Carbon, Director of DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women. On-line information on the public forum and the SART Conference is available at http://www.sartconference.com/Conference.php.

Joye Frost is a 1972 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She began her career serving crime victims as a Child Protective Services Worker in Hidalgo County and was designated by President Barack Obama as the Acting Director of OVC on January 20, 2009. For more information about OVC, visit www.ovc.gov.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice - Office of Justice Programs

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