New local startup aims to remove barriers, streamline services for assault survivors

Rachel Sattler and Kim Curran hope to alleviate the overwhelming steps for survivors with their nonprofit, the Dane County Multi-Agency Center, or DaneMAC.
DaneMAC co-founders Kim Curran and Rachel Sattler naround them are illustrations of medical information to describe the process
Photo by Nikki Hansen; Illustration by Tim Burton/Getty
DaneMAC co-founders Kim Curran and Rachel Sattler

In the aftermath of a sexual assault, survivors — reeling, traumatized — must decide whether they want to seek services. This can mean calling an advocacy hotline, filing a police report or finding transportation to UnityPoint Health – Meriter hospital downtown, the only place in Dane County that can perform a comprehensive forensic sexual exam.

It’s a daunting, often overwhelming prospect at an already vulnerable time — and it’s something Rachel Sattler and Kim Curran hope to alleviate with their nonprofit, the Dane County Multi-Agency Center, or DaneMAC. DaneMAC’s “soft launch” kicked off in July 2021, when the organization contracted with pilot site University Health Services on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus to bring forensic nurse exams to individuals instead of asking them to come to the hospital. It was just one component of what could become a game-changing, centralized new model for Dane County.

“People really don’t realize how much burden is placed on the survivor to get the help that they need, and we’re talking about really complicated systems,” says Sattler, a victims’ rights attorney who was a Dane County prosecutor of sensitive crimes for a decade. When she switched to victims’ rights, she saw firsthand how difficult it was for clients to navigate these systems. Curran, a nurse practitioner, used to run the forensic nurse exam program at Meriter. She was painfully familiar with the immediate impact of an assault, but it wasn’t until she shifted to family practice that she began to see not only the long-term health effects of trauma, but also the ways in which even the forensic exams could hurt survivors.

“I hear every day from my clients that navigating those systems is as traumatic oftentimes as the assault itself,” Sattler says. Curran likens it to being told at a regular doctor’s visit that you need an X-ray and bloodwork, but that you have to get yourself downtown for one and across town for the other, and you are on your own to coordinate the calls, scheduling and transportation. “Who’s gonna do that?” Curran says. “And yet that’s really what we’re requiring of survivors, is to do all that in a time when their brain isn’t even functioning normally because they’re traumatized.”

Both women insist that Dane County is rife with excellent — if siloed — service organizations. In fact, representatives from dozens of such stakeholders serve on either the advisory board or the steering committee Curran and Sattler created before forming DaneMAC. Curran and a graduate student had also canvassed the streets, shelters and hospitals for a community study. All of this made it clear that there was a need for DaneMAC, which is based on a national family justice center model known for putting multiple service organizations under a single roof (Milwaukee’s Sojourner Family Peace Center is an example). A brick-and-mortar building was the original concept for DaneMAC, too — until the pandemic revealed just how effective virtual solutions could be. Now, in addition to eventually expanding the mobile forensic nurse exam program to other area clinics, Curran and Sattler are developing a multi-agency online portal called Our Map that will serve the same purpose a building might have — a concept that earned them a spot in StartingBlock Madison’s 2021 Social Impact Cohort.

“Our Map will be a platform that you can use as a survivor to set up a private and secure profile,” Sattler says. Still in the ideation stage, the platform aims to empower survivors; they can upload details of their story so they don’t have to keep repeating it, and they can reach out to and communicate directly with partnering agencies of their choosing.

“The goal is not to create an additional service or duplicate what an existing support agency is doing, but to make it easier for the local support providers to do their work well,” says Sattler.

“We are on a mission to improve survivors’ experience,” says Curran, adding that this should be treated like any other public health issue that affects the entire community. “Statistically speaking, there’s no way you don’t know a survivor.”

Maggie Ginsberg is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.