The Effectiveness of Sexual Assault Services in Multi-Service Agencies

This Applied Research paper examines whether organizational affiliation and structure affect the quantity and quality of sexual assault services. The paper offers recommendations for future research evaluating the effectiveness of rape crisis centers.

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The Effectiveness of Sexual Assault Services in Multi-Service Agencies by Debra Patterson with contributions from Sally Laskey (September 2009).

In Brief:

Rape crisis centers began as organizations that were intentionally independent (termed free-standing) from other agencies, but overtime, many RCCs either folded, merged, or were implemented by other organizations such as domestic violence shelters or social service systems. While the freestanding programs tend to be autonomous in their operations and functioning, RCCs housed within other organizations vary in their level of autonomy over budgetary or service delivery decisions. As such, there have been concerns that merging RCCs into other organizations might affect the availability and substance of services. This paper reviews the literature to examine whether organizational affiliation and structure affect the quantity and quality of sexual assault services. This paper concludes with recommendations for future research evaluating the effectiveness of RCCs within multiple organizational affiliations and structures.

The literature suggests that free-standing RCCs had moderate budgets and staff, served a high number of survivors, and were more likely to express concern about meeting the needs of underserved populations than affiliated RCCs. Free-standing programs also received more referrals from law enforcement and hospitals than affiliated RCCs. In addition, free-standing RCCs regularly collaborated with other organizations on social change initiatives and developed strategies to improve the responses to sexual assault survivors.

RCCs affiliated with domestic violence programs had the least amount of funding and staff allocated to sexual assault services and served far fewer survivors. These RCCs engaged in social change efforts, but these efforts were moderate compared to free-standing programs. Further, RCCs affiliated with domestic violence programs were more likely to view sexual assault within the context of domestic violence such as with intimate partner rapes. However, a more recent study found four patterns of organizational structures among these programs that range greatly in their service delivery. Empirical studies are needed to compare the effectiveness of these different structures.

RCCs affiliated with hospitals and county services had the largest budgets with a similar staff size as free-standing programs. These programs served a higher number of survivors but often limit services to crisis-oriented counseling to meet the short-term needs of survivors. These RCCs also had minimal involvement in collaborative social change activities. RCCs associated with the criminal justice system, community mental health organizations, and universities had small budgets and staff and served far fewer survivors. RCCs affiliated with CMH and county services provided the least amount of prevention/education activities while those affiliated with the criminal justice system and universities were highly involved in these activities.

Overall, the literature suggests that free-standing programs provide more accessible and comprehensive services than the affiliated programs. If RCCs need to merge, the literature suggests that domestic violence programs hold the most advantages because of their similar organizational missions and goals. However, these conclusions are tentative because the current research is sparse, with the majority of studies occurring up to two decades ago.

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