Having the 411 before needing 911

  • Published
  • By Anne Beem
  • aslkgf
I frequently get asked why we have been doing so much training and education about sexual assault prevention. Most people do not believe they will ever be impacted by a sexual assault. 

Sexual assault is a pervasive problem throughout our culture, not limited to the military. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. 

The statistics in our country are staggering. 

It's estimated that one in five women in America have been a victim of sexual assault and one in 33 men have been victims. 

What's more alarming is the estimate that one in three women in the military are survivors of sexual assault. 

This is not to say women are assaulted more while in the military but that overall, women in uniform have a higher likelihood of having been victims at some point in their lives. 

In June 2005, the Air Force implemented a comprehensive program focusing on victim response, prevention, risk reduction and perpetrator accountability. The program offers restricted reporting which allows a victim to come forward and report a sexual assault, receive medical and mental health treatment, receive support and not start a formal investigation. 

This brings us more in line with what happens in local communities, since most states do not have mandated reporting for sexual assault involving adults. 

Victims always maintain the option of changing their report to an unrestricted report at any time. A provision has made it possible for a victim to have forensic evidence gathered through the use of a sexual assault evidence collection kit and confidentially stored for up to one year. 

This allows the victim time to decide whether or not to come forward and start an investigation. It's important to know that if a victim reports through their chain of command they will not have the option of restricted reporting, as the only persons eligible to assist a victim with a restricted report are the sexual assault response coordinators, chaplains or any provider in the medical treatment facility. 

I am one of more than 100 fully-trained sexual assault response coordinators currently in place at military installations around the world. 

The SARC serves as the single point of contact to coordinate community sexual assault response when a sexual assault is reported. 

I assist the commander to ensure victims of sexual assault receive the appropriate responsive care by activating confidential victim advocacy 24-hours-aday, 7-days-a-week, using trained victim advocates for all incidents of reported sexual assault occurring either on or off the installation involving adults eligible to receive care in a military treatment facility. 

Victim advocates are given 40 hours of training to be able to provide crisis intervention, victim service referrals and on-going, nonclinical support to the victim of a reported sexual assault in accordance with sexual assault response protocols. 

A VA's primary responsibility is to help the victim navigate the processes required to obtain care and services. It's not the VA's role or responsibility to be the victim's therapist or to act as an investigator. 

Unfortunately, in 2006 we had to respond to nine incidents of sexual assault at Whiteman. We have seen some trends in our victims. 

They are young females under age 25 and in most cases alcohol use is involved by either the victim or the perpetrator or both. 

All the assaults occurred between individuals who knew each other. 

Although we teach to not to use alcohol to excess, we still have some folks who do. The logical consequence of this is a hangover, not a sexual assault. 

A victim is never at fault for being assaulted, although in our society we tend to focus more on victim blaming than holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. 

We tend to wonder why the victim was where they were, what were they wearing, were they drinking, flirting, etc. 

We tend to focus on did the victim say no and not whether or not the perpetrator asked for consent. The bottom line comesdown to the fact that sex can be great if it is consensual, but intoxicated people cannot give consent. If there's no consent it is sexual assault or rape. 

Several articles have appeared in news venues, to include Fox News and ABC News, during the past week, which report sexual assault reports in the U.S. military have increased by 24 percent in 2006. 

The information, which came from the 2006 Department of Defense Annual Report on Military Services Sexual Assault, indicates there were nearly 3,000 sexual assault reports throughout DOD last year, compared with almost 2,400 the previous year. 

Action was taken against 780 people, from courts-martial and discharges to other administrative remedies. 

Pentagon officials have said that sexual assaults often go unreported. They have attributed the rise in number in part to the vigorous effort to encourage victims to report the crime. 

"We expected those efforts, as well as increased training and improved victim services, would prompt many more victims to come forward, and we expected the numbers to increase this year," said Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith. 

In the report, the DOD said the military services "placed a high priority on training," and that the 2006 report demonstrates the Pentagon's "commitment to eliminating sexual assault from the military services" through education and by removing barriers that can dissuade victims from reporting the crime. 

This report demonstrates DOD commitment to eliminating sexual assault from the military services by providing consistent policy, removing barriers to victim reporting, ensuring care is available and accessible, and providing continuous training and education to all service members. 

It's important to immediately report to the SARC if you are considering a restricted report or to law enforcement officials so you can discuss your options and get medical care right away to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit done. 

Do not shower, brush your hair or teeth, or change your clothes, as evidence may be lost. 

The month of April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We will be combining with many other organizations to sponsor a Take Back the Night Block Party to celebrate a violence-free community. 

This event is set for April 12 from 5 - 8 p.m. at the base chapel with free music, food and fun. Watch for more information on this event. 

More information on sexual assault can be found on the SARC link on the Whiteman intranet homepage or at www.sapr.mil.