One of the key components that make the new UNHS Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) effective is the work of the Domestic Violence Advocates, who provide counseling and assistance to victims of sexual assault.
According to Summer Wojcik RN, one of the UNHS Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE Nurses) who spoke with us last month, Shawna Whitehorse has been instrumental in helping get the SART program started at UNHS. Whitehorse, a Domestic Violence Advocate, stresses that she is one of several advocates involved in the SART program. Pfawnn Eskee, Susie Martin, Lynn Bia and Tonya Grass are all Advocates who bring their experience and knowledge to the SART program.
Whitehorse explained that the idea for the SART program was presented in April 2018 and training was held for those who would participate. The program began in October, after five new SANE Nurses completed their training. She said SART was a brand new concept for San Juan County. In fact, no one other than those involved had heard of SART or SANE Nurses. SART is a group of community, medical, law enforcement and social services professionals, who work together to coordinate an immediate and supportive, victim-centered response to the act of sexual violence. The object is to help victims of sexual violence, and their families, regain their sense of self after a sexual assault.
One of the first priorities, Whitehorse noted, was enlisting the support of law enforcement officers from the Navajo Nation and San Juan County. There were some very difficult obstacles to be addressed in this effort, such as a shortage of Navajo Nation Police Officers in Shiprock, Kayenta and other districts near the Utah Strip of the Navajo Reservation. There were also jurisdictional concerns for San Juan County Sheriff’s Deputies and other non-Navajo officers, and the difficulty in getting officers to respond to incidents in areas on the Utah Strip. Despite these challenges, Whitehorse said once she and others in the SART program reached out to these agencies, the response has been very encouraging.
“I asked these agencies what we as a SART team could do to help them. How could we make their jobs easier and how could we help with recruiting more officers,” she said.
She made some adjustments to a brochure she found during some of her training and made sure Navajo Nation officers had these items. She also created a packet officers carry with them when they respond to sexual violence cases. They include the officer’s name, the case number for reference and the numbers of victim advocates they can call if they need assistance.
“The response to this information has been awesome,” Whitehorse said. “I got a call at midnight once and the victim said she got a brochure from an officer with the Victim Advocate number. We want these victims to know they are not alone. We are there to help them and everything is confidential.”
The SART program is brand new in San Juan County and it might be a patchy road at first, Whitehorse explained. It might take a little longer to respond to calls for assistance, but as the program grows the response times and the availability of Police Officers and Advocates will improve.
Shawna Whitehorse began working with UNHS in 2013 and has worked her way up to Medical Assistant, Screener, Advanced EMT and EMS Instructor, Vaccination Coordinator and now Victim Advocate. She earned a Medical Assistant Certificate and received her Bachelors Degree in Allied Health from Northern Arizona University. Her goal is to become a Physicians Assistant. Right now she’s dedicated to seeing the SART program become a successful tool to help victims of domestic violence find help.
“We are trained as advocates not to get anyone in trouble, but to support victims and help as needed. It’s going very well, so far, and there are a lot of changes in the number of calls we’re getting. We’re a lot busier than before. I think we’re making a difference.”