Throughout our country, communities have long struggled with their response to sexual violence. In many instances, the criminal justice system has failed those who most need it to work. From initial police reports to decisions that prosecutors make in court, the U.S. criminal justice system has a long way to go before sexual assault is treated as the violent crime that it is, offenders are held accountable for their actions, and victims of sexual assault are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
In 2016, the Sexual Violence Justice Institute came out with a toolkit entitled What Do Sexual Assault Cases Look Like in Our Community? A SART Coordinator’s Guidebook for Case File Review, which is a step-by-step guide for sexual assault response teams (SARTs) to use to look at case files to identify what is working well within their community’s response as well as identify gaps as a way to create lasting systems change. Case files hold the “official” record of a survivor’s experience. From the language used in capturing the experience, to steps taken or not taken, case files offer great insight into frameworks responders use, the ways that their work is organized, and how the disciplines interact with each other.
Through the process of looking at case files, SARTs are able to look at the system as a whole, to learn more about the current response to sexual violence. While case file review can present challenges, it is a powerful tool to identify and implement strategies for sexual assault cases to be more successfully investigated and documented, and to evaluate current policies and practices of SART agencies.