JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Airmen, ranging from crew chiefs to emergency management specialists, as well as Department of Defense employees, gathered in a classroom, Feb. 4, 2013, for a week-long training session that prepared them to become sexual assault victim advocates.
Department of Defense guidance now requires victim advocates to be Nationally Certified through the DOD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program by Oct. 1, 2013. Forty hours of intensive victim advocate training, as well as a 32-hour refresher training annually, is what all victim advocates must complete before being certified.
"I volunteered for the program so I could support Air Force members through a difficult time," said Staff Sgt. Emily Martin, 628th Civil Engineer Squadron Emergency Management Flight noncommissioned officer in charge of training. "It's important to show the victims of sexual assault that their fellow Airmen care about them, and being a victim advocate allows me to make a direct impact."
The class was organized and led by Lucy Rodriguez, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response coordinator for Joint Base Charleston - Air Base.
"While most Air Force members recognize and understand the role of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator, the role of the victim advocate is less familiar," said Rodriguez. "Victim advocates provide essential support, liaison services and care to sexual assault victims, which makes victim advocates the backbone of the SAPR Program."
With permission from their unit commanders, the Airmen and civilians participated in extensive training in preparation for assisting victims in reporting and recovering from a sexual assault.
"Reporting a sexual assault is never easy for survivors; having a neutral and supportive person to help navigate the daunting process reduces stress and helps facilitate their recovery process," said Rodriguez.
With the new guidance from DOD, even veteran victim advocates are now required to attend the training.
Patricia Clark, 628th Medical Group Dental Clinic supervisory dental assistant, has been a victim advocate at JB Charleston - Air Base for more than five years and was in attendance for the training.
"The training really went in depth about how a victim feels after being sexually assaulted, and how we as victim advocates can help them with reporting and recovering," said Clark.
During the course, the volunteer victim advocates watched films with interviews from sexual assault victims, sexual assault trials and the barriers victims face when reporting sexual assault.
"When an Airman reports a sexual assault they can either file a restricted report or an unrestricted report," said Rodriguez.
A restricted report gives the individual access to medical care, counseling and a victim advocate, but does not initiate an investigation.
Any report of a sexual assault made through normal reporting channels, including the victim's chain of command, law enforcement and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations or other criminal investigative service is considered an unrestricted report. The SARC will be notified of any unrestricted report and will assign a victim advocate to the individual. The details of the allegation will be provided only to those personnel who have a legitimate need to know.
"Myself and victim advocates provide victims with information on both, but the decision to file a restricted or unrestricted report is always up to the individual," said Rodriguez.
Aside from training videos, representatives from organizations such as Life Skills, Equal Opportunity, AFOSI, local police departments, base legal and People Against Rape visited the class.
"Our guest speakers gave each of us a greater understanding of the reporting process as well as the investigative process," said Clark. "I now feel more comfortable explaining the process to victims."
On the final day of training, the volunteers were driven to a local hospital where they met with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, responsible for administering Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence kits. The SANE nurse explained the process of bringing a sexual assault victim into the emergency room and the overall process of administering a SAFE kit.
"When a victim reports a sexual assault to either myself or a victim advocate, one of the first things we ask is when the assault occurred and, if it is within a certain time period, we suggest they have a SAFE kit done," said Rodriguez. "The hospital portion of the training helped to familiarize the victim advocates with the process, so they can be prepared if they are ever called upon to accompany a victim to the emergency room."
After completion of the training, the Airmen and civilians who volunteered were awarded with a SARC coin and a certificate of completion recognizing them as a victim advocate. In total, more than 10 Airmen were added to the victim advocate program here at JB Charleston - Air Base, bringing the total number of victim advocates here to 18.
"Sexual Assault is unacceptable and it is our job to give it our full attention to help eliminate it from our respective Services by first eradicating it as a problem at Joint Base Charleston," said Col. Richard McComb, JB Charleston commander. "These victim advocates are the front line in assisting victims with reporting and recovery as well as spreading the word about eliminating sexual assault."
The week-long training will be held twice a year. To sign up for future classes or for more information on the SAPR program, call 963-7272 or visit the SARC office at 205 South Davis Dr., building 246 at JB Charleston - Air Base. To report sexual assault individuals should call 963-7272. Sailors on the Weapons Station side of the base can contact Tiffany Mizzell at 764-7428 for SAPR questions.