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Sexual assault initiative educates survivors, Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brian Bahret
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
A father wipes sleep from his eyes as he picks up the receiver. A glance at the clock reveals it's 2:42 a.m. Confusion dissolves into horror as he listens to the other's terrorized voice "Dad? Dad, it's me; I've been raped." 

"As a father, I can think of no more horrible phone call than one of my daughters calling to say she has been sexually assaulted," said Col. Joel Westa, 36th Wing vice commander, as he spoke to the audience attending the sexual assault candlelight vigil held at the Ocean View Community Center Monday. 

"For one moment of time the perpetrator has placed his need over that other person's need," he said. "Anytime we do that, we violate what we've been called to be servants to one another." 

While sexual predators exist in both the civilian and military communities, the sentiment takes on another dimension for those serving the armed forces, he said. 

"It violates everything the Air Force stands for," he said. "It violates the wingman concept and personal responsibility." 

The candlelight ceremony is the closeout for Sexual Assault Prevention Month - a month the SARC office uses to help educate the base populace of the effects of sexual assault and tool available to those who were assaulted. 

"Our intent is to empower victims of sexual assault and recognize the struggles they go through day to day and empower them to transition from victims to survivors," said Capt. Damon Hobley, Andersen's Sexual Response Assault Coordinator office director. 

"A lot of victims feel like they're going through that struggle on their own and there's no one they can talk to, no one out there cares or there's no one out there to help them," he said. "By recognizing that there is a community out there that understands what these individuals are going through, hopefully we can help the individuals to talk about it or to get help that they need." 

The SARC office held other activities during the month including an Andersen Elementary School course where the children learned the difference between good touches and bad touches and provided informational booths at the commissary. 

According to the National Violence Against Women Study, approximately 1 in every 6 women and 1 in every 33 men in the U.S. experience an attempted or completed rape sometime during their lives. 

Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender, spousal relationship or age of victim said Captain Hobley. It also occurs within the Air Force, but the Air Force uses education to inform Airmen about what sexual assault is, how it typically occurs and how it affects the victims. 

Victims need to know it's important to get help. 

"Most victims believe that what happened to them is their fault," said Shari Freeman, assistant SARC. "People are afraid to get help because they're afraid of what their first sergeant or commander might say. They don't want a big thing with OSI or security forces, so they stay quiet and they fester. That's when problems start." 

Different survivors have different responses. 

"Someone who was victimized who was under the influence may think it was their fault because they shouldn't have had so much to drink or shouldn't have gone out by themselves," said Captain Hobley. 

They blame themselves for the actions that took place. 

"They feel guilty, they feel ashamed and helpless," he said. 

Others feel surprise that this may have happened, shock or anger. Majority of the cases, these individuals were preyed upon by the individual. They used the date as an opportunity to gain access to that individual to sexually assault the victim, according to the captain. 

An Air Force study of 231 rape investigations conducted by the Office of Special Investigations from 2001-2004 determined that 83 percent of the cases, the person assaulted knew the perpetrator. 

"Some people feel it's the scruffy guy with the ski mask who jumps out of the bushes. Sexual assault can happen to anybody male, female, old and young - it doesn't matter," said Captain Hobley. "In most cases, it is by people we already know; it's not necessarily by a dark alley type of situation." 

When it's somebody you know, it makes it that much more difficult to come to grips to believe that this happened to you, he said. 

"Usually when it's someone you know, it's harder to admit that you were sexually assaulted than if it were someone you didn't know," Captain Hobley added.
The study also showed that alcohol was a factor in the 63 percent of the cases. 

People need to understand the definition of consent, said Captain Hobley. 

The Department of Defense defines sexual assault as "intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent." 

Additionally, the DoD further explains that consent is not given when a person uses force, threat of force, coercion or when the victim is asleep, incapacitated, or unconscious. 

"Even if their mouth is saying yes, if their clothes on the floor is saying yes, their blood alcohol content can say no," said Mrs. Freeman "That's where people can get stuck."
The SARC's goal is to inform survivors that they have options in getting treatment and that reporting sexual assault does not have to be a public episode, said Mrs. Freeman.
Survivors of sexual assault may report their situation in one of two ways - restricted or no-restricted reporting, she said. 

The restricted approach involves contacting the SARC office first. 

"We have options for reporting if they call the SARC first," she said. 

If word gets back to the survivor's supervisor first, according to military instruction, they must report the assault and get help for the individual. 

"If they tell their friends, or talk to their supervisor then they don't have as many options."
The SARC office can offer all of its connections to support agencies without notifying the commander. 

"We have connections to the chaplain, family advocacy, life skills, the clinic and the folks at Navy who are the sexual assault nurse examiners who perform the rape exam," said Mrs. Freeman. "Instead of a person trying to find all that information on their own, through the SARC office we have all the connections plus the victim advocates for support." 

Survivors who chose the restricted reporting option can receive confidential reporting. "There is no investigation initiated - there's no security forces or OSI," she said. "They have access to chaplain support, victim advocates, and the sexual assault forensic exam." 

"The best thing about restricted reporting is it's confidential," she said. "No one knows. The downside is you can't go after the perpetrator, because there's no OSI involvement."
However, at any time a survivor may opt to transition from the restricted reporting option to an unrestricted reporting one, she added. 

Unrestricted reporting allows survivors to pursue the aggressor, because the OSI and security forces are notified. 

"It's up to the survivor and what their objective is," she said. "If they just want help for themselves and don't really care to pursue the perpetrator, more than likely they'll go with restricted reporting." 

While the two options for reporting are available, she said the Air Force prefers when survivors choose the unrestricted reporting approach. 

"The Air Force pushes unrestricted because we would like to see justice pursued, in addition to helping the survivor," she said. "With unrestricted, it would give both."

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