An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | March 26, 2014

Don't turn away

By Eric Sesit Joint Base Charleston public affairs

Consensual sex.

Sexual assault.

They are not the same thing.

Sexual assault is a brutal crime against another person's most prized possession: their self-esteem.

All of us in, or associated with the military, know sexual assault is a problem. According to the Department of the Defense, there were 3,374 cases of sexual assault reported in 2012. Those were just the cases that were reported. Think about it: every month, 300 of your wingmen and shipmates and fellow Marines and Coastguardsmen were sexually assaulted in 2012. And that is just the number of people who actually reported the crime. How many untold cases are out there? How many young men and women don't come forward either because they are afraid of repercussions from their chain of command, or just because they are too embarrassed to come forward?

April marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but this is not just another theme month. As we were making preparations for publicizing all of the events for SAAM, I had plenty of opportunities to speak with Tiffany Mizzell, Ruby Godley, Florine King and Sheila Bacon. Tiffany and Florine are Sexual Assault Program Managers, Weapons Station and Air Base respectively, and Ruby and Sheila are Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Civilian Victim Advocates at the Weapons Station and the Air Base respectively. These women have devoted their lives and their careers to helping survivors of sexual assault. They train, they advocate and they care.

During one of my discussions with Tiffany, we were speculating on what it would take to put an end to sexual assault. How do you make people understand sexual assault is such an insidious crime, that it can destroy the victim's life for years? The memories can be suppressed and later manifest themselves through symptoms 10, 20 or even 30 years later in the victim's life; symptoms like, depression, anger, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and even suicidal thoughts and finally suicide.

Tiffany and I didn't solve the world's problems that day, but it got me to thinking ... what in the world can one month do?

And then it finally came to me. We concentrate our time and efforts into this month, so when May and June, and September and January come along, maybe, just maybe, the information we provide THIS month, will strike a nerve. If we can save just one Sailor who had too much to drink and was in danger of being raped, but instead was escorted home safely by his or her shipmates, we made a difference. If just one Airman will remember that NO means NO and respects the wishes of their date and stops making unwanted advances, we made a difference.

There are going to be numerous SAAM events happening around Joint Base Charleston in April. Some are designed to build awareness through sporting events. We'll also have speakers and performances focusing on sexual assault throughout the month.

Other events and displays are much more somber, such as the T-shirts you might see hanging at various locations around the base. These shirts are part of the Clothesline Project. It's called Survivor's Art Therapy. Survivors of sexual assault write their feelings and thoughts on T-shirts, and you will be able to see many of them for yourself. Unfortunately, Tiffany, Florine, Ruby and Sheila have far too many of these shirts ... way too many.

Here is what I read on one of the shirts:

"I trusted you, you betrayed me
It destroyed me
God gave me wings and I'm no longer your victim
I'm a survivor"

So this month, when you see a SAAM display at your command, or if you have an opportunity to attend one of the special performances scheduled, or the chance to listen to a guest speaker tell his or her story, stop and take a few minutes to read the literature or listen to that speaker. I guarantee you will learn something.