The Sexual Assault Abuse and Victims Empowerment (SAAVE) program at Westchester Medical Center meets needs and supports healing.
By Melissa F. Pheterson
As seen in the March/April issue of Advancing Care
“We recognize that sexual assault is a crime of power and control. By connecting victims to the services of their choosing, we strive to restore their sense of power and control on their road to healing.”
These are the words of Licia K. Sandberg, Senior Director of the new Sexual Assault Abuse and Victims Empowerment (SAAVE) program at Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) in Valhalla.
SAAVE provides survivors with support services such as safety planning, referrals for medical and mental healthcare, legal advocacy and placement in shelters. It is a natural extension of WMCHealth’s Forensic Acute Care Team (FACT) and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) program.
Victims of sexual assault can report directly to SAAVE, which is staffed by volunteers who speak English and Spanish. The program’s rape crisis counselors and program coordinators are available to accompany victims to forensic rape exams, police departments, and medical appointments. They also guide survivors through the criminal justice system and refer them to support services, such as the Department of Social Services, as needed.
SAAVE collaborates with the FACT program to provide immediate care to victims after an assault if they undergo a forensic rape exam at Westchester Medical Center’s Emergency Department. Coordinators follow up with victims the next day to make sure they receive everything they need. Explains Sandberg: “We’re hoping that with our support, they begin to take the individualized steps they may need on their path to recovery.”
Sandberg says she finds the program’s outreach programming for prevention efforts as meaningful as its direct services.
“We go into the community to teach about intimate-partner violence, sexual assault and misconduct,“ says Sandberg, who has over 12 years’ experience as a legal representative, advocate and educator in the field of sexual assault and intimate-partner violence. “At Westchester Medical Center, we leverage our roots in the region, to provide extensive community outreach and education, particularly to our local schools, colleges and community-based organizations, and among law enforcement and EMS providers.” Recently certified as a New York State Rape Crisis Program, SAAVE also provides sexual-assault response, prevention training and support on local college campuses.
To highlight the key role of law enforcement in supporting victims and collecting forensic evidence of assault, WMCHealth launched the Victim Informed Care & Trauma Recovery (VICTR) Task Force in November. This collaborative community initiative brings together WMCHealth representatives and key community stakeholders from organizations that include the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office; members of the 42 local Westchester County police departments; Westchester County agencies, including the Office for Women and the Department of Probation; community-based service providers, including those serving the LGBTQ, Latinx and other underserved populations; local colleges and universities, as well as Title IX coordinators and health-center staff; and faith-based providers.
“We recognize that victims often come for a forensic rape exam with a police escort,” Sandberg says. “Officers are with the victims from admission to discharge, as are we. We want to work together to ensure we’re providing trauma-informed care and accompaniment for victims, streamlining response and recovery efforts so that the FACT examiners may obtain the evidence needed for prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable. That’s a huge first step in a case involving a sexual assault.”
Call the SAAVE hotline at 1.833.220.2444, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.