SVJI’s Rural Technical Assistance Project brings people, knowledge, and resources together to develop real solutions for rural communities addressing sexual violence. The collaborative approach we take means tools, trainings, and conferences designed for rural spaces and tailored assistance to meet your community’s specific needs. 

Our Rural Realities blog is a space to reflect, connect, and share about the work of coordinated sexual assault responses with others doing similar work across the United States. Please contact Johnanna Ganz ( with any rural related needs or questions.

Please share your thoughts and responses to blog posts via the comment function. Any comments that are deemed inappropriate (e.g. derogatory or inflammatory) will be deleted. 

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  • September 20, 2017 8:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For our year in review, check out this post from January 2017 on Mission Statements! 

    Through doing work with Sexual Assault Response Teams, one of the key things that helps orient the group and keep the work grounded is a mission statement. Sounds cheesy? You betcha. Is it effective? You betcha! Mission statements or clear guiding principles/goals help any group with the work they do, the decisions they need to make, or the outcomes they want to see. Recently, our organization went through the process of updating and revising our mission statement, and the process helped us to grow tremendously and give us a better sense of direction.

    Mission statements or goals should be relatively short and clear. The mission statement tells you all the most essential information that an outside party needs to have a view of what you do and why. Your statement will contain the following information: (1) Who are you? (2) What do you do? (3) Who benefits? Let’s walk through what those mean, even if they seem pretty simple.

    1. Who are you? This is the easiest part of the mission statement. It is the name of your group or agency. If you don’t have a name, now is a fine time to unite under one banner. It should probably describe your service area and include the team type. Let’s just pretend that my SART is named after my cat, CleoCatra. So, the question is answered by the following:
      1. The Catra County SART
    2. What do you do? This might be a little trickier to be able to say in short way, because the truth is that SARTs do a lot of work for their areas. You meet regularly. You build relationships. You challenge your agencies to improve their work. You write and implement protocol. You collect input from service providers and victim/survivors. There are so many things to choose from that it can feel overwhelming. Focus in on the big picture view of your work. Ask yourselves about the end goal you and your team are trying to achieve. Using my example, I might say this:
      1. Increases access to and improves the sexual assault response
    3. Who Benefits? This question is asking for whom are you doing the work. A mission statement will tell people what you are seeking to do and who will be better because of your existence. This helps to justify and clarify the work you do for when people go off track. Knowing the people you aim to serve will help keep your team centered. You will have the power to ask, “For whom do we do this work?” which will help steer people back on course. Keep this part focused on your main population, because many people will probably benefit from your work. So, my example might look like:
      1. Sexual assault victim/survivors in our county

    When we put my example all together, it would read like this:

    The Catra County SART increases access to and improve the sexual assault response for sexual assault victim/survivors in our county.

    Even that has some repeated phrasing. We could shorten it to look like this:

    The Catra County SART increases access to and improves the sexual assault response for victim/survivors.

    This mission statement tells people who we are, what we do, and who benefits as a result. It provides a clear road map for our work and will serve as our touch point moving forward.

    Now it’s your turn. Does your team have a mission statement? Do they need one? Do you think mission statements are frustrating? Leave your thoughts, questions, or stories in the comments! 

  • September 13, 2017 12:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For our year in review, we are posting the year's most popular blogs! Please see this one from December 2016. 

    As a SART coordinator, one of my major gripes was around the problem of what I began to refer to as shiny things or the shiny problem. All teams experience this issue, whether you are rural, urban, new, experienced, or any other descriptor. When working with teams that are engaging in difficult processes (like negotiating the mean of terms, trouble shooting systems difficulties, etc.), the shiny problem especially comes into play. So, you may be thinking, “What exactly is the shiny problem?”

    The shiny problem: when a team begins to lose focus and wants to chase (or chases) after seemingly exciting and large projects or ideas that are unrelated to the current tasks and needs of the team. AKA they see something shiny and sparkly and want to chase it.

    Example: You are working through developing protocol and a team member starts to talk about how important it is to start doing monthly case review.* Other team members suddenly jump on this idea and want to begin spending more time on case review. While case review is important (!), this is a large undertaking and can easily distract the team from the task at hand—protocol writing.

    Most humans are susceptible to the shiny problem. It’s just how we roll. Focus on mundane and difficult tasks is truly hard for the human brain to sustain; research suggests that we can only focus our attention for approximately 20 minute intervals. So, the real question is: how do you deal with the shiny problem on your own teams? Here are my two strategies that work in most situations:

    • Ask key questions! Key questions are neutral and open-ended questions that explore an issue by guiding people through the reasoning behind and/or implications of the choice. Through using neutral, open-ended questions you may discover the shiny is actually necessary or you may uncover other issues at play within in the team. Using the example from above, you could ask the team members questions like:
      • What draws you to the idea of case review during protocol development?
      • How does case review enhance or hinder our current process?
      • Can you tell me more about what you hope to get out of case review at this time?
    • Get folks to commit to the shiny! My preferred way of doing this when someone says, “I want…!” or “Why don’t we…?” is that I first explore the concept through some neutral/open-ended questions. If it seems like a good fit (or, even if it doesn’t but they won’t let it go!) for the team’s work, I ask the team to fill in the blank, “To get that, I/my agency will…” This places the work back onto the team and increases sense of ownership over the work. The commitment strategy can also work to diminish the power of the shiny—it might not seem so great if a team member or their agency has to commit more time/money/resources. Back to our example, if a team is intent on doing case review, you could pose the following to the team to fill in individually or collectively:
      • To finish the protocol, I commit myself and my agency to ___________.
      • To begin doing case review and to support case review as a team process, I commit myself and my agency to ___________.

    If no one or only a small group is willing to commit themselves or their agencies to the work required, you can place it back on the team. Assure them you can always pick the shiny up at another time, and then, you can get back to the task you are trying to accomplish.

    Coordinators are often expected to do a lion’s share of the work with few resources to accomplish the tasks. This gets even more complicated when team members (or you!) begin to experience the shiny problem. Remember, the shiny problem is totally normal! But, you do need to able to refocus on the tasks at hand. The two strategies of key questions and commitment—either individually or as a combo—are tools that promote exploration of ideas and ultimately, increase participation and accountability on behalf of the team and their agencies without shaming, humiliating, or shutting others down.

    Questions? Other strategies you use? Comments? All are welcome! Leave ‘em below! 

  • September 06, 2017 7:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It’s been a year since we launched the Rural Realities blog! Can you believe it? For this month, I wanted to take time to review and ask what has been most interesting or beneficial to you? What topics or blogs stick out in your mind? If you have thoughts, leave them in the comments! 

  • August 23, 2017 8:11 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Within SARTs and their communities, there can be a wide variety of viewpoints held regarding issues of sexual violence. Often, misperceptions and prejudiced thinking clouds systems responders’ process of working with victim/survivors and lead us away from being victim centeredOne key misperception that appears regularly is the “false report,” or the idea that a person intentionally reports a sexual assault when none has occurred.

    So, what can you do about it? This is where the work of the SART comes in! Start challenging damaging assumptions by defining the terms, providing accurate information, and educating your partners about options.

    • Define and Clarify Report Types. A false report is when evidence from an investigation proves there was no crime. Other types of reports, from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report distinguishes between “unfounded” and “baseless” reports. Unfounded means after an investigation has been conducted, there is a determination that no crime occurred. Baseless is when an investigation finds that a crime occurred but (1) doesn’t meet the legal definition or (2) there is insufficient information. “Unsubstantiated” is sometimes used when an investigation fails to prove a sexual assault occurred.
    • Give a Reality Check. National research shows only 2-10% of sexual assault reports are false; this rate is similar to all other crimes. Many things influence the bias of the “false allegation” against sexual assault victims, including being “uncooperative” with law enforcement, intoxication at the time of assault, or inconsistency of statements—all of which correlate with trauma. Provide these reality checks for folks.
    • Focus on the Real Number. More importantly, ask folks to focus on the inverse of that 2-10% statistic: 90-98% of reports are from victim/survivors who need help, resources, and justice. Through focusing on the 90-98% statistic, you start by believing which can change the current under-reporting and under-investigation.
    • Educate and Evaluate. Bias against sexual assault victims can lead to inadequate investigations, especially when it comes to non-stranger assault. Lack of education, personal opinions, or acceptance of myths all contribute to bias. Help your systems personnel understand bias, review their classification process, and create standards of accountability for the investigation and classification processes. Encourage the use of techniques like the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview or examine the thoroughness of investigations and classifications of sexual assault cases through case review.

    Do you have other tips and strategies for challenging the misperceptions about false reports on your team? Questions for your fellow SART leaders?  Leave ‘em in the comments! 

  • August 16, 2017 8:21 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Sometimes, when we are trying to explain what it means to be victim centered it can help to turn to outside sources for more information. While you work through defining victim centered for your team and community, here are some starting points. The Office for Victims of Crimes (OVC) in their guidebook on human trafficking provides a really good overview here. They also have this page, which may help your team. Finally, SVJI provides this resource. However, in each instance, it is important to make sure that you are working to customize definitions with your team—including your members and their agencies increases buy-in and ownership over definitions.

    Do you have other resources to help others define victim centered? Please leave them in the comments! 

  • August 10, 2017 12:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Many of the teams and communities with whom I have worked with discuss being victim centered. Yet, when I ask what that means, sometimes the team isn’t quite sure or the team gives an answer that someone else had developed for them. Defining victim centered is a critically important part of a team’s mission and purpose. More importantly, this definition should fit the context of your community. An urban team may have some key differences as compared to a rural team when defining victim centered. This is because each community has different strengths, areas of improvements, and different populations/resources and viewpoints. You must find ways to define victim centered for your communities.

    • Work through a large group process. If your team has excellent relationships, everyone participates equally, and the whole team handles disagreement really well, this might be a really good option. Through having an open dialogue, you can hear where each agency is coming from and what matters to their discipline.
    • Ask for individual submissions. When you have all the submissions (or as many as you can get), take a look at what people have in common. Develop a definition based on those common elements. You can always bring this back to the large group to evaluate and add/change things.
    • Tweak an outside definition. If you don’t feel up to defining from scratch, you can use an outside definition and make changes to fit your community and process. Next week’s blog will give a number of examples from other sources.
    • Talk to Victims. This one is KEY. Make sure that whatever process you work through, that victims have had voice somewhere. Maybe you did interviews. Maybe certain providers ask about what victims want. Maybe you create a survey. There are many ways to get information from victims about what they want and need. Be sure that you aren’t writing definitions in isolation.

    Finding ways to develop a definition is critical to helping guide the work of your SART. This step can really help your team in moments of difficult conversation or cases where things don’t go quite as planned. Getting your team to work together and define victim centered will help them feel more connected to the process.

    Do you have other ideas or strategies for defining victim centered in your team’s work? Leave ideas and questions in the comments! 

  • August 02, 2017 8:10 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Like last month, I want to tackle some phrases that I hear and see frequently in teams, at conferences, and in publications. This month, let’s chat about victim centered. There are many variations in what that means or looks like in practice. So, SART friends, give me your thoughts and experiences: what does being or becoming victim centered mean/look like in your teams?

    Leave your thoughts in the comments! 

  • July 26, 2017 8:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Working in sexual violence response is deeply rewarding and, also, deeply draining work. Each day, we listen to and support those experiencing high levels of trauma, loss, and violence. This work affects people over time, both, positively and negatively. Many folks are familiar with vicarious trauma. This is a long-term and negative change in the person who works with traumatized individuals. That’s every single member of your Sexual Assault Response Team. This means that each of you are dealing with the effects of trauma and traumatization.

    Thus, when we talk about implementing trauma informed approaches into our work—through writing protocol, changing trainings or policies, etc.—it is crucial that we also evaluate how we incorporate trauma informed principles into our team meetings. This is especially true for rural responders who may regularly be the only one scheduled on a shift or may be the only designated responder to sexual violence.

    Here are some questions about how you might consider honoring the experiences and coping mechanisms of your team members when working together.

    • Are team members knowledgeable about vicarious trauma?
    • Have you talked about different coping strategies that people use to manage their experiences and feelings regarding doing sexual assault response work?
    • Have you spent dedicated time discussing vicarious trauma and its effects in your meetings?
    • Do team members have confidential and neutral resources to discuss their experiences and stressors outside of the meetings?
    • As a team leader, are you able to have direct (and private) conversations with your team members when they are acting out of character or potentially harming the group?
    • How can you make changes to processes, policies, or meeting styles/locations that may provide more supportive environments that respond to the effects of trauma? 

    These questions are just starting places for you to think through how you can start to implement a trauma informed approach in all aspects of your team. If you have examples, suggestions, or questions about making your team meetings more trauma informed, please leave them in the comments! 

  • July 19, 2017 8:12 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    When I’m working with teams or new team coordinators, I always recommend that everyone watches Dr. Rebecca Campbell’s webinar on the neurobiology of trauma. She makes the concepts really easy to understand and applicable to every part of our work. Dr. Campbell’s approach and information has helped so many of the teams with whom I have worked. I continue to recommend this one. The best part? It is everyone’s favorite “F” word: FREE! 

    Do you have other resources to help others understand trauma’s effects or resources that help teams incorporate trauma informed approaches into their sexual violence response? Leave them in the comments! 

  • July 12, 2017 9:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Sexual Assault Response Teams across the U.S. and the territories are becoming more and more focused on the concept of being trauma informed in their work—meaning that you understand the neurobiology of trauma and work to minimize any triggers or re-traumatization. This is a much needed shift in our fields of work, because trauma causes a lot of changes in the functioning of the brain and body. Sexual violence is a heinous and acute form of trauma; thus, it is important that the SART find ways to introduce and incorporate trauma informed approaches into their work.

    For those who do not have a clear definition on trauma informed, there can be some confusion about trauma informed and trauma specific work. Here’s a handy chart that SVJI developed after conducting a national inquiry to get some clarity about what trauma informed means in our work:

    There is general agreement that trauma informed is a set of guiding principles that influence how we interact with the folks who have experienced trauma—this doesn’t describe precise actions to take, but rather gives ideas and guidelines on how to best support folks. Trauma specific is about exact steps to take to address trauma—these are actionable steps, often implemented by trained service providers.

    When thinking about your SART and the member agencies represented, it is essential to ask yourselves about how you can use basic guidelines and principles that ensure you understand and respond to the effects of trauma. These principles fundamentally work to avoid re-traumatization for the victim/survivor. What are the areas of your sexual assault response that might cause re-traumatization? What steps can the member agencies take to change those areas of improvement?

    Have you been working on implementing trauma informed practices in your team and communities? Do you have questions about what trauma informed might look like for your work? Leave questions and ideas in the comments! 

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This project is supported by Grant Number 2015-TA-AX-K014 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this content are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. 

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