Seminar strengthens working relationship of sexual assault response team members
February 17, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 17, 2012) -- What began as a plan to gather about 30 people to discuss how to better help sexual assault victims, turned into a two-day Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, seminar, with nearly 130 Fort Drum and local community members in attendance.
"There are lots of different people who work at various stages of a sexual assault case," explained Capt. Jeffrey Gilberg, Fort Drum special victim prosecutor.
Fort Drum's Office of the Staff Judge Advocate hosted the SART seminar, held Feb. 8-9, at the Commons, to bring together civilian professionals and Soldiers who work any and all aspects of a sexual assault case.
Those involved in a case range from a variety of different disciplines, including victim advocates who receive the initial allegation, emergency room nurses who conduct the sexual assault examination at the hospital, and a counselor who helps the victim through what happened.
"There are so many people who are involved during a sexual assault case, and they're involved in many different stages of the process," Gilberg explained.
Law enforcement officials are often brought in to investigate. Following an investigation, a trial counselor reviews the investigation to determine what should happen with the case.
The first day of the seminar focused on a variety of topics including victim advocacy, the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, medical examination, military and civilian law enforcement, and military and civilian victim support.
"While we all might have different motives and different interests, there is one interest that is the same for all of us: to treat each victim with sensitivity, dignity and respect during the pursuit of justice," Gilberg said. "No matter what our job is, the victim is going to have questions. The best way to support a victim is by turning the unknown into the known."
Gilberg created a fictitious case complete with sworn statements and investigative reports based on cases he has seen during his career.
"The case file is a very common set of facts," he explained.
On the second day of the seminar, attendees were taken through the case -- beginning from the moment the allegation was made, through to the trial. The seminar concluded that day with an exercise, demonstrating a direct and cross examination of a victim.
Seminar attendees included representatives from Samaritan Medical Center and Carthage Area Hospital, New York State Police, Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, Watertown City Police Department, the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, as well as criminal investigative department representatives from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and the U.S. Military Academy.
"We tried to make sure each table was diverse, so that the discussions would also be diverse with lots of perspectives from people who do different jobs," Gilberg noted.
Among those attendees was Lynn Phillips, an emergency room nurse at Carthage Area Hospital.
Phillips, who works as a sexual assault nurse examiner,said she was able to take away key pieces of information from the seminar.
"The roundtable seating allowed all of us to break from our comfort zone and exchange free-flowing ideas. With each table having persons of different disciplines, a unique perspective was shown," Phillips explained. "The experience definitely showed me how much each part we play is totally interlinked with the others."
Andrea Peck, community education prevention specialist with the local Victims Assistance Center, said the seminar provided her with information regarding military victims of sexual assault, by comparing the perspectives of the civilian criminal justice and judicial system, and the military criminal justice and judicial system.
"It allows us to more effectively do safety planning, advocacy and linkages for the military victim," she said, noting she also gained a more detailed and comprehensive knowledge of a military court martial versus the civilian jury trial of one's peers, and the differences in methodology.
More than 60 unit representatives from each brigade on post also attended the seminar, including Capt. Joshua Howard, assistant operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment.
Gilberg noted it was important for Soldiers to attend the seminar, because they are the ones who will be making the decisions in the situations.
Howard noted that information he learned at the seminar, such as resources available to him and to potential victims, will help him when he takes a company command this summer.
Gilberg said there were three outcomes he hoped the seminar would meet.
His intention was for participants to recognize that they all have the same objective, despite their different professional jobs.
He also hoped to educate attendees on the different "pieces of the puzzle," by knowing their job and how they fit into the case, as well as knowing other people's jobs and how they fit into the case.
"We're all part of one team in this response to sexual assault. We all have different roles on that team, but we're all trying to win the game," Gilberg said.
"The process of caring for victims of sexual assault is just that -- a process," Phillips explained. "Even if some of the policies and names of the players change, the key elements of the process remain the same, protect and care for the victim, build a solid case and allow due process."
Finally, Gilberg said he hoped those in attendance networked with each other, forming future professional relationships.
"If they have a question that is outside of their area of expertise, the hope is to improve the communication among the disciplines," Gilberg explained.
"I came away with several names that I feel totally comfortable calling, if and when I need assistance," Phillips said.
Although time will tell if the third goal was met, Gilberg is confident that the first two goals were met by the conclusion of the seminar.
"The enthusiasm and the high level of interaction that we witnessed over the course of the two days were great," he said.
Gilberg, who hopes to make this an annual event, noted the seminar is a great example of how Fort Drum works with the community, especially in sexual assault cases, since many of them occur off post.
"The coordination between Fort Drum and the local authorities and district attorneys' offices is so important. We're really lucky that we've been able to build a good relationship with them," he added. "If you don't have communication, the victim is the one who ends up suffering."