Area Assault Team Strengthened

BERLIN – The safety net for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Worcester County got a little wider and stronger this week with the endorsement of a collaborative effort to coordinate their best care and legal processes.

On Tuesday, Worcester County Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, officials came together to formally endorse new standard operating procedures for representatives of every law enforcement agency in the county along with officials from Atlantic General Hospital (AGH), Social Services and the State’s Attorney’s Office. Created in 2004, the SART program provides a safety net of sorts for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and even child abuse, starting with their original treatment at a hospital or healthcare facility straight through to the arrest and prosecution of their attackers.

When SART was formed in 2004, the program included a handful of local law enforcement agencies working in concert with AGH’s SAFE program and the State’s Attorney’s Office to provide the best care and legal process navigation for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Since then, several more law enforcement agencies across the county have joined the SART team, necessitating an update of its standard operating procedures.

While the original mission remains the same, the growth of the program required refreshing its procedures and protocols, which were officially signed and enacted during a special ceremony at the Atlantic Health Center on Tuesday. The signing was attended by representatives of nearly every state, county and municipal law enforcement agency in Worcester along with AGH representatives and State’s Attorney Joel Todd.

Worcester County Life Crisis Center Director Michelle Hughes told those assembled the program had its roots in the Rape Crisis Center set up in Ocean City over 30 years ago. Since then, the agency has grown by leaps and bounds and now includes every law enforcement agency in the county.

“It’s often difficult to get such a wide and varied group of agencies to come together and collaborate on a team like this,” she said. “It’s really been a remarkable achievement.”