Protocols and Policies

last updated 30 April 2009


Protocols serve as important tools to coordinate effective responses to crimes like sexual assault by providing a consistent set of guidelines and standards. Protocols can help those at all steps of the response team - advocates, hospitals, law enforcement, judges - think more collectively by fostering dialogue and encouraging innovative and creative approaches to sexual assault. Etrulia Calvert and Laura Williams of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault offer the following analogy for thinking about the relationship between a model protocol and an effective team response: a protocol is to a coordinated criminal justice response what a play book is to an athletic team. They write:

“Rather than a definitive statement of what a response would be, the protocol is a guide, or a tool for improving teamwork. A coach would not prescribe a game plan to players and demand that they follow the plan in every movement of the game, but would rather use the playbook as a visible way they communicate their desired movements in the game. It is useful for that purpose, but the playbook itself does not win the game. It is the interpretation of those plays that results in victory.”

In this manner, protocols can serve as a "well-considered plan" or set of guidelines for addressing the tasks and responsibilities of various communities to offenders and victims of sexual assault. By providing structure and best practices with flexibility for local units to tailor responses to its particular or unique needs, they can serve as the springboard for active dialogue and effective adaptation to a locality's specific concerns and issues.

Protocols can be structured in a variety of ways. One approach to protocol development is to create/gather best practices and universal guidelines for a specific audience such as health care professionals, police, or prosecutors. A benefit to this approach is that the protocol can be written with the appropriate terminology and assumption of baseline knowledge specific to the intended audience. Universal, agency specific protocols also reduce the variance in information and care based on geography. Another approach to protocol development begins with efforts centered on specific geographic locations; in this manner, various states and countries like Arizona, Colorado, and South Africa have developed recommended guidelines for a coordinated response to sexual assault. Similarly, individual counties like San Diego County have also conducted similar efforts.  By structuring a protocol geographically, it can be designed specifically to abide by legislative mandates. It also can be a tool in reducing system fragmentation and promoting the efficient interaction of the various systems involved in response to a sexual assault.

For the 2008 United Nations expert group report entitled "Good practices in legislation on violence against women", including recommendations on protocols, guidelines, standards and regulations (Section 2.G), click here. For the Russian version of the report recommendations, click here.