“It’s Important We Team Up Together”: Strengthening Relationships to Better Support Transgender Survivors of Sexual Assault
A baseline evaluation of relationships among community and healthcare organizations in Ontario, Canada provided key insights into the strengths and limitations of and next steps for an intersectoral network focused on enhancing the response to trans survivors of sexual assault, a structurally marginalized and critically underserved population.
Transgender (trans) persons experience high rates of sexual assault, face many barriers accessing services post victimization and, where they can access services, report that providers rarely respond appropriately to their specific needs. As an important step in addressing this pressing health equity issue, the trans-LINK Network was established in Ontario, Canada. The trans-LINK Network comprises over 130 members united by a mission to work together to enhance supports for trans survivors of sexual assault. The Network includes diverse trans-positive community and healthcare organizations offering a range of services and supports including housing, immigration/settlement, HIV/AIDS, mental health, primary health care, hospital-based sexual assault care, and 2SLGBTQI+ supports. Our new article in Journal of Public Health Management and Practice presents a preliminary investigation into how these organizations work together to support trans survivors of sexual assault and where collaborative relationships can be strengthened.
HOW DID WE MEASURE COLLABORATION IN OUR NETWORK?
All 119 member organizations providing direct services were invited to take an online survey that assessed the nature and extent of collaboration within the Network. The survey was adapted from a validated social network analysis tool developed to characterize and evaluate networks, with specific measures for collaboration, communication, and connection. For example, this survey tool examines key antecedents to network sustainability and success such as value and trust. This approach has been used to shape the development of many different types of networks, including public health collaboratives (https://visiblenetworklabs.com/).
WHAT DID WE LEARN ABOUT THE EXTENT AND NATURE OF COLLABORATION?
Seventy-eight healthcare and community organizations completed the survey, reporting 378 unique relationships, with almost all (97.5%) organizations listed as collaborators by at least one of the responding organizations. The Network achieved high scores for value (70.4%) and trust (83.4%), indicating that member organizations are well positioned to continue advancing Network priorities, sharing knowledge, integrating trans voices in all network activities, and achieving common and measurable goals.
HOW CAN WE STRENGTHEN RELATIONSHIPS AND ENHANCE COLLABORATION?
We shared and discussed survey findings in a virtual consultation session with 21 key member organizations from across the Network. Using jamboard (https://jamboard.google.com/), we facilitated a dialogue to deepen our analysis and generate action items for the Network. Policy and practice recommendations arising from this consultation and presented in this article were:
- Create new communication and knowledge exchange channels for trans-LINK Network members, including an interactive virtual platform to enable regular check-ins and casual training opportunities (e.g., lunch and learns);
- Clarify trans-LINK Network member roles, contributions, and needs through the establishment of a live, member-facing repository of this information;
- Design and implement strategies to enhance regional collaboration across the trans-LINK Network, including the formation of regional working groups and establishment of new partnerships with 2SLGBTQI+ services;
- Promote awareness of the trans-LINK Network through social media and the development of tailored communication products;
- Establish trans-LINK Network subcommittees of organizations for program design and coordination;
- Disseminate relevant funding opportunities that could support collaborative activities of the trans-LINK Network;
- Identify key measures of trans-LINK Network success, including number of new partnerships, formal agreements, advocacy initiatives, and social media engagements;
- Center the voices of clients and service users in trans-LINK Network evaluations;
- Utilize diverse methods to conduct trans-LINK Network evaluations, including focus groups, interviews, and social network analysis tools;
- Examine improvements in the delivery of care through trans-LINK Network member-based program evaluations;
- Establish accountability mechanisms for trans-LINK Network member organizations, including use of SMART [specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound] objectives and development of annual trans-LINK Network goals; and
- Build upon existing frameworks to evaluate trans-LINK Network processes and outcomes.
With a foundational understanding of collaborations within the trans-LINK Network, and member-driven recommendations to strengthen relationships, we are better equipped to bridge and reinforce critical connections among healthcare and community organizations and, ultimately, improve the response to trans survivors of sexual assault. As one Network member put it: “it’s important we team up together,” instead of “feel[ing] like we have to individually create results.”
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Janice Du Mont, EdD, leads an interdisciplinary program of research to address gender-based violence, with a focus on sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and elder abuse. She is a senior scientist at Women’s College Research Institute at Women’s College Hospital and a professor and Director of the Collaborative Specialization in Women’s Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
Joseph Friedman Burley, MPH, is a Management Consultant with the City of Toronto’s Seniors Services and Long-Term Care Division. Prior to this role, he was a project coordinator for the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres and the trans-LINK Network.
Daisy Kosa, PhD, is a research associate for the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres and an assistant professor at McMaster University’s Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact in the Faculty of Health Sciences.