Sexual Assault Response Teams: Exploring the discursive negotiation of power, conflict, and legitimacy in multi-professional service delivery models
Moylan, Carrie Ann
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To improve services for sexual assault victims, many communities have adopted coordinated models of service delivery, often called Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs). Uniting law enforcement officers, rape crisis advocates, and health care professionals, SARTs frequently aim to create a seamless and compassionate experience for victims who engage with formal helping services. There is some indication that the process of implementing SART is contentious. Furthermore, replicating in practice the ideals of SART coordination has proved elusive for some communities. This research explores the challenges of SART implementation, focusing on why there is sometimes a disconnection between the philosophy of integrated services and the realities of frontline service delivery. Using a qualitative within-case and cross-case method, interviews with 24 SART professionals were analyzed, resulting in three studies of SART functioning. The first study explored the discursive construction of conflict in SARTs. Analysis identified how SART professionals discursively positioned one another in terms of authority, expertise and credibility in order to protect their own professional autonomy and to stake a claim on setting the agenda for the team's work together. The second study explored strategies that interviewees used to manage conflict in teams. Four categories were identified including preventative, responsive, unobtrusive, and resignation strategies. All professions were engaged in processes of managing conflict, but advocates talked much more about strategies and were almost exclusively responsible for all discussions of unobtrusive and resignation approaches to managing conflict. The final study draws on institutional theory to explore how external forces shaped the adoption and operation of SARTs. The analysis revealed two simultaneous processes. The first process illustrated how SART was discursively legitimized, starting with the framing of sexual assault service delivery as a moral imperative for communities and continuing with the identification of coordination as a means of meeting the moral imperative. Concurrently, a process of decoupling is indicated by the continuing resistance both to the moral imperative and the logic of coordination, as well as by the inconsistent and incomplete implementation of SART. Implications for SART practice and future research are also discussed.