The Georgetown University Police Department will hold its second annual Sexual Assault Response Team training — a program to train GUPD officers to respond to cases of sexual assault on campus — over spring break.
The program, which requires officers to receive 40 hours of additional training, differs from previous protocol where students would report sexual assault to any available officer, and GUPD would then report the assault to the Metropolitan Police Department, as mandated by its memorandum of understanding.
The memorandum has since been modified so GUPD can handle matters internally; the SART team has been implemented to ensure that any one of the 14 SART officers can respond to a case of sexual assault.
SART co-coordinator Sergeant Sarah Halpren-Ruder said these changes should help students feel more comfortable reporting instances of sexual assault to GUPD.
“Students or survivors who had been victimized in any way were often scared to come report to us because they didn’t necessarily want to go through that whole channel of MPD and potentially criminal court and all that stuff,” Halpren-Ruder said. “With that changing, I’ve been trying to push that out to the students so that they know that they’re less limited in terms of their options.”
Halpren-Ruder said SART officers’ priorities are protecting survivors and guiding them toward available resources.
“When I respond, my initial reaction is making sure that our survivor is physically and emotionally okay, and that’s my primary goal coupled with having somebody respond with me [so] that we can make sure that the subject or the alleged perpetrator is not out there and a threat to our community, our campus,” Halpren-Ruder said. “We have that, then we have delicately getting to whether or not the survivor does want to pursue criminal [charges] and call MPD.”
Halpren-Ruder emphasized that SART officers handle every case uniquely.
“No two cases, no two situations are the same, so there’s no typical recovery process,” Halpren-Ruder said. “Everybody handles every situation very differently. So it’s being there for the students, or the nonstudents, it depends who comes to us, and kind of being their guide to try to help them navigate life after, because you don’t ever get over it, you just have learn to live differently.”
Liaison to the Georgetown University Student Association Committee for Health and Safety Maddy Moore (SFS ’17) said the process of reporting is unique to each case and often does not result in student conduct action.
“I would say most survivors don’t go through the conduct process whereas they go through a confidential resource to get a class change or to move out of their dorm or to make sure that they have medical services, and very few actually interface with the conduct system,” Moore said.
GUSA executive Deputy Chief of Staff overseeing issues of sexual health and Sexual Assault Working Group member Olivia Hinerfeld (SFS ’17) said the establishment of SART helps GUPD overcome stereotypes of campus law enforcement surrounding issues of sexual assault.
“Around law enforcement in general, there’s been anecdotally concerns raised for many years that people in law enforcement don’t always have the training to respond to survivors of sexual violence in the most sensitive way, that they don’t know how to ask the right questions or respond in a way that really comes from a place of understanding,” Hinerfeld said. “Having people in the unit that are trained to talk to survivors and know what kinds of questions are appropriate is going to be really important for this campus in making sure that people feel comfortable coming forward if they want to report and initiate that formal investigation process.”
According to Halpren-Ruder, Georgetown is different among many colleges and universities in training private police to handle cases of sexual assault.
“Other universities and campuses have individuals or one or two people who work on sexual assault, sexual assault-related cases, but in terms of a team, we’re one of the only ones who has it,” Halpren-Ruder said. “There are a lot of schools that just don’t have that kind of resource within their police department, so I think we’re kind of on the cutting edge of getting there.”
SART training is a voluntary interdisciplinary opportunity for GUPD officers, according to GUPD Deputy Chief Joseph Smith.
“I think it takes the right temperament, but I think it should also be something that they have an interest in working on,” Smith said.
In training, SART officers witness presentations from off-campus resources as well, including nurses from the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program, representatives from the D.C. Rape Crisis Center and MPD sexual assault officers.
According to Moore, who has experience with Sexual Assault Peer Educators and Take Back the Night, SART is part of a wider-range effort to reform sexual assault policy on Georgetown’s campus.
“Over the last few years, policy reform at Georgetown around sexual assault has been more about how we center the survivor in all of these situations and how do we honor that the survivor is coming from a very different experience,” Moore said. “I think the SART team fits really well into the survivor-centered model that we’re trying to implement at Georgetown.”
Going forward, Halpren-Ruder said the aim is for expansion of the SART training across GUPD.
“I would love to see a department here where we don’t have to have a SART team, but everybody has the same level of expertise and therefore anybody responding will know how delicate the situation is and exactly how to handle it,” Halpren-Ruder said.
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