Sexual Assault Victim Advocates: The truth behind name

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Montse Ramirez
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: Due to the sensitivity of this topic, the woman asked to remain anonymous.)

In 1986, at the young age of 15, her world was turned upside down by a heinous crime which took not only her innocence but also her peace of mind.

"One night, I was driving in a car with my boyfriend," she recalls. "We went to a park and started to make out. Before I knew it he was forcing my clothes off while I tried to stop him. I continued trying to push him off and yelled, 'NO. STOP', but his force overpowered mine. He continued to ignore my pleading and after he was finished, he drove me home and that was the last time I saw him."

At the time, she did not know she had been a victim of a date rape, but as shame, fear and confusion overcame her, she knew she had been part of something dreadful.

"Fear was my main emotion," she said. "I feared that if I told my mom I would get in trouble. And even worse, I feared being pregnant."

During this time, she felt more alone than ever and didn't know what to do or who to talk to. She opted to bottle up her feelings in hopes that they would disappear but they never did.

"I didn't feel like myself for a long time after that," she said. "I felt like anyone who saw me could tell what had happened to me and judge me. I felt responsible for some reason."
The memory alone still brings tears to her eyes, but she doesn't let it cripple her. She found light in the midst of havoc when she became a victim advocate at this Air Force Global Strike Command base three years ago.

She understands the importance of having someone there to provide a shoulder to cry on, since she didn't have someone there when she needed. She became the shoulder she wished she would have had to diminish the suffering that victims face.

When a victim is being questioned or examined, she is there to hold their hand and offer support.

The victims she helps can see that she is now a happy, strong, successful woman even after going through a similar situation, which gives them hope.

"I want to do anything I can to help victims feel better," she said. "I will be there for them when they need me."
Her reason for volunteering as a victim advocate was not to receive an enlisted performance report bullet or to boost an award package, she said. She did it because she wants to help people deal with the pain associated with sexual assault.

"Being a victim advocate is not a glamorous job," she said. "We wish we were not needed, but that's not the case. Sexual assault happens and there needs to be somewhere or someone people can go for help."

In 2005 the Department of Defense established the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program after realizing there was not a consistent confidential way to assist and provide advocacy to victims of sexual violence, according to Ann Beem, 509th Bomb Wing Sexual Assault Coordinator.

"When reporting to the SARP program, the victim will have the option to do a restricted or unrestricted report," Ms. Beem said. "Under both reporting options the victim will receive the medical and psychological care they need. Under the restricted report an investigation will not take place and the report will be confidential between the SARC and the victim and the individual will be offered to be assigned a victim advocate.

Since 2005 when restricted reporting was instituted, the DoD has had a significant increase of people reporting their assaults in order to get help, according to Ms. Beem.
"Given that sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes, with 60 percent still being left unreported, the impact to the people and the mission of the Air Force is huge," Ms. Beem said. "For each person who is victimized, there are many other lives affected by their trauma: spouses, children, family members and coworkers."

"I think that if a military member was assaulted the mission would suffer greatly because that person would be withdrawn and unable to focus on their job," the victim said. "They would probably just not be the same, maybe even scared to be alone with someone of the opposite sex when there was no problem before.

"We are not counselors, but we can be there to help provide strength when you have none," she said.

Victim advocates will keep cases confidential and will not discuss the assault to anyone. Those with questions, concerns or who need help regarding sexual assault, call (660) 687-7272.