On Thursday, nearly a dozen agencies came together to sign a new memorandum of understanding for the Charlottesville-Albemarle Sexual Assault Response Team, which now includes the University of Virginia.
The new agreement is the first in Virginia to include a local university after the change in law on July 1, according to Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci.
“This agreement promotes criminal accountability for sexual assault — and the deterrence that comes with it. It is the first SART agreement in the Commonwealth to incorporate an institution of higher learning, and President Sullivan’s signature reflects UVa’s commitment to this issue,” he said in an email.
“I am proud of this agreement, and the fundamental principle it affirms: those who commit sexual assault must be held criminally accountable for their conduct, wherever it occurs in our community.”
The Charlottesville-Albemarle SART has been around since 2009, when Virginia code required localities to put teams together that encompassed both law enforcement agencies and survivor resource centers to efficiently respond to sexual assaults. On July 1, that law was amended to include representatives from local university Title IX offices, including the University of Virginia.
The teams are required to meet at least once a year and need to implement protocols and policies for how their communities should respond in the event of a sexual assault — from the collection and preservation of evidence to accurately advising survivors of their options for reporting assaults and how they can follow through with a criminal report.
The local team includes the Albemarle and Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, UVa Medical Center, local victim/witness programs, the Charlottesville, Albemarle and UVa police departments and, now, UVa’s Title IX office.
The new MOU is the first revised version for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SART since 2011 and was constructed with input from every participating agency, according to Sheri Owen, director of community outreach at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency.
“This is exciting because it was such a long process,” Owen said in an email. “It was so fulfilling and wonderful today to see everyone on the same page.”
Owen said it was difficult to incorporate all of the agencies’ different requirements, including the Title IX Office at UVa, but she said the new MOU is much more transparent compared to the previous version from 2011. UVa also agreed to communicate with the local commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices within 24 hours of a sexual assault that occurs on Grounds.
“It was challenging to get all the mandated obligations on the same page,” Owen said.
With the new MOU officially recognized, both Owen and Tracci said there is more work to be done, including updating SART’s protocols and making sure each agency can work effectively.
“Over the next 90 days, the team will further clarify the respective obligations of each party to more effectively identify, report, investigate, and ultimately prevent sexual assault in our community,” Tracci said. "I wish to thank all SART partners and Albemarle Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Darby Lowe for finalizing this agreement.”
“Huge steps have been taken to keep the survivor in mind and make sure those responsible can be prosecuted,” Owen said. “We’re not done yet; we have a more detailed protocol to work on.”