The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is a survivor-centric program designed to provide a team approach to responding to sexual assaults in our community.
Before the development of the SART, most survivors endured the aftermath of assault alone, feeling frightened, frustrated and confused. All members of the SART work together to provide the highest level of care for survivors.
The SART consists of
A sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) who performs a sexual assault forensic medical exam and provides medical care
A law enforcement officer who conducts a thorough investigation and provides emergency assistance
A rape crisis counselor advocate who provides emotional support, advocacy, and access to victim assistance services. The rape crisis counselor advocate is there to support you and can answer any questions you may have, as well as provide information and referrals. The rape crisis counselor advocate will also offer you follow-up care such as in-person counseling, assistance with law enforcement concerns, and accompaniments to future court hearings and legal interviews.
A Deputy District Attorney whose job is to prosecute felony violations of law in the courts of Los Angeles County. A deputy district attorney may or may not respond to the hospital, and usually becomes involved in a case after law enforcement has collected the evidence.
SART hospitals are designated Centers where specially trained personnel work with you to collect evidence and make the reporting process go as smoothly as possible.
In addition, they have a shorter waiting time for medical attention, as well as state-of-the-art equipment for evidence collection. A high quality forensic examination and DNA testing can greatly increase the chances that the rapist is convicted.
What are my rights?
You have the right to survive and thrive, which means that you have the right to request everything that you need to make the transition from victim to survivor.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO
- Be treated with respect
- Be treated with sensitivity by medical and legal personnel
- You have the right to ask that law enforcement take you to a SART hospital
- Even if you choose to get treatment at a non-SART hospital, you have the right to have a rape crisis counselor advocate with you during the exam and interviews
- Have your rape crisis counselor advocate and a support person of your choosing present during the sexual assault evidentiary exam or physical exam [Penal Code 264.2]
- Ask questions of the police, sexual assault forensic examiner, and attorneys
- Have a rape crisis counselor advocate present for any interview by law enforcement authorities, district attorneys, or defense attorneys [Penal Code 679.04]
- Be kept informed on the status of your case
- Maintain confidentiality with the rape crisis counselor advocate [Penal Code 1035-1036.2]
- Change or add to your initial statement as you start to recall details more clearly
- Decline an interview with law enforcement or reschedule for a time when you will be better able to participate
- Request from law enforcement information regarding whether a DNA profile was obtained from the testing of rape kit evidence, or other crime scene evidence from your case. You are also entitled to know whether that information was entered into the Data Bank [Sexual Assault Victim's DNA Bill of Rights" Penal Code 680]
- Decline an interview with defense attorneys and their investigators
- Decline a phone interview
- Do nothing
- Be compensated through the Victim Compensation Program if you qualify and if you cooperate with the police
- Have your rape crisis advocate accompany you during court appearances [Penal Code 868.5]
- Remain anonymous during criminal proceedings
- Keep your face and/or name from being used in the media
- Withdraw your testimony at any time
- Request the status of DNA collected
What will happen at the hospital?
Medical personnel are required to contact law enforcement if they suspect a sexual assault has occurred. However, once the police arrive, it is your choice whether or not you want to talk with them. Reporting the assault to the police and having the forensic medical exam doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind later about pursuing prosecution.
Except in cases of domestic violence and child molestation, you always have the right to decide whether or not to pursue prosecution. The decision to report the assault to the police is yours alone to make. However, having evidence collected as soon as possible after the assault gives you a wider range of options later if you do decide to pursue prosecution.
If you choose not to have evidence collected, you will still be able to receive medical care by an emergency room doctor who will check for injuries and address any medical concerns you have. However, you will be responsible for the cost of the exam. If you do not have insurance and cannot afford to pay for the exam you may choose to receive the exam at a free or low-cost medical clinic.
If you choose to have evidence collected, you will be asked to sign forms giving your consent for the sexual assault forensic examiner to examine you, take photographs, and collect medical evidence. If you need help understanding these forms or have any questions about them, be sure to ask the forensic examiner or rape crisis counselor advocate.
What to expect from the Sexual Assault Forensic Medical Exam?
TALKING ABOUT THE ASSAULT
Before the forensic examiner begins the exam, you will be asked to give detailed information about the sexual assault. This can be difficult, so take your time and request what you need from the rape crisis counselor advocate or the forensic examiner in order to feel more comfortable.
The police officer and forensic examiner will want to know exactly what kind of sexual acts were performed and how many times so that they know how best to collect evidence. You have the option of using pictures to help tell what happened rather than describing the sexual acts in detail. You are not expected to know all of the medical terms, so do not be afraid to ask for explanations. Remember to let the rape crisis counselor advocate, forensic examiner, or police officer know if you feel uncomfortable and need to take a break. At any time, you maintain the right to stop the questioning or examination.
Your rape crisis counselor advocate is there to support your decisions, make sure your rights are being respected, and answer any questions that you may have.
TALKING ABOUT YOUR HEALTH HISTORY
The forensic examiner will then ask you general questions about your overall health, including your menstrual history, usual method of contraception, and the last time you had consensual sex. This information is useful for the examiner to know how best to examine you and provide appropriate medical care.
THE PHYSICAL EXAMINATION AND EVIDENCE COLLECTION
You will then be taken to a private examination room and given a robe to wear for the exam. If you are wearing the clothes you wore at the time of the assault, there is a good chance the forensic examiner will take them to give to the police in a sealed bag for evidence. Clothing worn at the time of an assault often provides excellent biological evidence, such as hair, fibers, or blood, which can be analyzed using DNA technology. If you didn’t bring a change of clothes with you, the rape crisis counselor advocate can provide you with clothes to wear upon leaving the hospital.
Next, the forensic examiner will take your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. They will thoroughly examine your body for physical injuries, so be sure to say if you are experiencing any soreness, pain or discomfort. Any visible injuries that you have will be photographed with your permission. Keep in mind that sometimes it can take 6-21 days after the injury for bruises to appear on your body. If this happens, call the detective handling your case to request that additional photographs be taken.
Following the general examination, the forensic examiner will perform a pelvic exam almost identical to what you might have received from your own doctor during a gynecological exam. If you have never had a pelvic exam, be sure to tell the examiner so that they can help you feel more comfortable. You will be asked to lie flat on the examining table, place your legs in footrests with your knees apart, and slide your body to the edge of the examining table. To make the exam more comfortable, try to relax your stomach and back muscles, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Ask your rape crisis counselor advocate for whatever support you need— they are there to hold your hand if you want, answer any questions you may have, and communicate your needs to the examiner as you would like.
The pelvic exam will include taking swabs of the fluids in your vagina. A swab of your rectum might be taken, depending on the type of assault. A special microscope with a camera attached to it, called a colposcope, may be used to take pictures of any external and internal injuries, bruises or microscopic tears in your vagina. The examiner may also take fingernail scrapings and samples of hairs from your head and pubic area. A special UV lamp may be used to detect semen or saliva on your body that can be sampled for evidence. The exam may also include taking blood and urine samples and mouth swabs for forensic testing purposes. The forensic examiner will do a pregnancy test for all female survivors.
The sexual assault evidentiary exam does not include a pap smear or actual testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You will need to seek follow-up medical care at a doctor’s office or clinic for these purposes. Please see the section called “Who can help me?” for listings of free clinics and hospitals.
AFTER THE EXAMINATION
After the exam, the forensic examiner will offer you medication to treat you for certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that you might have been exposed to during the assault. You will also have the option of taking emergency contraception, sometimes called “the morning after pill,” which can significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy.
After the exam and interview are finished, the rape crisis counselor advocate will ask if they can follow up with you in a couple of days to see how you are doing and offer to connect you with additional services, such as counseling. If a friend or relative took you to the hospital, you may now go home with her/him. If no one accompanied you to the hospital, the police officer will take you back home or to a safe location.
You should plan to schedule follow-up appointments with your regular doctor, a health clinic or the hospital.
Your first follow-up appointment should be made two weeks after your evidentiary exam. This appointment is necessary for taking follow-up tests for gonorrhea, chlamydia, pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS. This is also your opportunity to receive any additional medical care you need, like a pap smear, full gynecological exam, and vaccinations.
Your second follow-up appointment should be made six weeks after your emergency room examination. At this appointment, you should test for syphilis, HIV/AIDS, and take a final pregnancy test.