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New response program provides better way to report incidents

by Senior Airman Nika Glover
Thunderbolt staff writer

In an effort to provide a more efficient and comfortable way for victims of sexual assault to report incidents, the Air Force has implemented a new program that ensures victim confidentiality and safety.

The Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program was implemented in June after Air Force officials recognized there was a need for a better sexual assault reporting system.

"There have always been resources in the Air Force in place for victims of sexual assault, but just like in society, this is a problem that has been around for a long time, said Capt. Marshall Preston, victim advocate for the SARP program. " In 1998 and again in 2003 the Air Force experienced (situations with sexual assault) at the Air Force Academy and the handling of those situations demonstrated a need for a new program."

So, the Air Force looked at the Navy's program for handling those types of incidents and saw it was working well for them and decided to adopt a similar program, he said.

Currently it is being implemented by informing all Air Force and tenant unit servicemembers, during a one-hour training class, on what the program is and who it benefits.

"I think it's important to educate military and civilian personnel on base to a problem that is not new, but that the Air Force takes very seriously. The way we are approaching (the implementation of the program) and utilizing servicemembers and civilian personnel to help in the training is a great idea," said Lynn Jackson, sexual assault response coordinator for MacDill.

She said the program is being applied in two parts. First by informing base personnel about the program, then training the victim advocates who will work as first responders for the victims.

During the one-hour class, base members watch a video that contains a sexual assault scenario, Mrs. Jackson said. Once the video is over they discuss what they saw and ask questions regarding how the situation in the video was handled.

"I also inform the participants about restricted and unrestricted reporting," Mrs. Jackson added.

She said the restricted and unrestricted reporting is the basis of the program and it gives the victim control and allows them to choose how they want to handle the situation.

"In restricted reporting, the victim chooses to tell a victim advocate, a chaplain or personnel from the 6th Medical Group. They don't have to tell anyone else and it's completely confidential," she said.

"In unrestricted reporting, the victim chooses to tell the victim advocate and other officials if they wish," Mrs. Jackson said.

Although victims may be apprehensive about reporting to a stranger, the victim advocates are trained to make sure the situation goes smoothly for the victim.

"All the victim advocates attend a 40-hour training class that teaches them how to correctly respond to calls," said Mrs. Jackson. "Then on their last day of training they visit a facility similar to where a victim will go after being assaulted. This gives them a better idea of what the victim is about to go through."

She said MacDill currently has 16 trained victim advocates but would like to have at least 25. Volunteers can be E-4 and above and must be two years post-trauma if they are victims of sexual assault themselves.

To volunteer, contact her at 828-7272.

"The benefits of volunteering for this program are great," said Mrs. Jackson. "Victim advocates get to see immediate results of their work and they are also able to continue their duties at their next location because the information on what they've done with the program will follow them to their next base."

Senior Airman Jessica Soto, 6th Operations Group, said she volunteered to become a victim advocate because she got to see first hand how not having a good response system devastated the base mission at her previous base.

"I saw how (a sexual assault) physically and emotionally deteriorated a military family member," she said. "Realizing sexual assault is something that does occur in the Air Force, and there are measures being taken to prevent incidents and support victims, I wanted to be a part of that mission. I wanted to help victims and survivors to become stronger and give them the support and information they needed to continue to being a wonderful individual and (productive member) of our Air Force family."

Captain Preston and Airman Soto have worked alongside Mrs. Jackson helping her with unit training classes as well.

"So far I've gotten a good response," Captain Preston said. "I believe many of the male Airmen I helped train realize that the program was not created as a way of accusing offenders, but rather to provide a safe environment for the victims."

"The goal is to have everyone informed about the program by Nov. 1," Mrs. Jackson said. "But we expect to have met those goals well before then."

Although the program is not yet completely up and running, people can already take advantage of the program by calling 828-SARC if they become a sexual assault victim.

Even with the program being fresh in its first year, Captain Preston said he can already see that the program has helped change the climate of the Air Force.

"I have no doubt that with this program people will feel as if they have a safe and open environment to come forward if something does happen to them," he said.

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