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Raising sexual assault awareness

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program aims to raise awareness and promote the prevention of sexual violence in the Department of Defense.

The program focuses on getting the victim of an assault support that is sorely needed and wasn't there before.

In past sexual assault incidents the focus was on the crime -- fraternization, adultery, underage drinking -- rather than getting help for the victim, such as mental help, care for their well-being, time to recover and support.

The intention of the program is to ensure the victim is taken care of. Then once the victim is ready they can pursue if they choose to report it.

Ms. Robin Sherard, Buckley's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, ensures victims of sexual assault receive guidance and emotional support during administrative, medical, investigative and legal procedures, and that victims understand the processes involved.

The SARC lets the victim know what their options are. Their first choice is how they report it -- restricted or unrestricted.

If the victim does not want to initiate an investigation they could chose the restricted reporting process, which allows for confidential collection of evidence and medical treatment. The victim only has this option if they report the assault to healthcare personnel, a SARC or a victim advocate.

Chaplains do not have the authority to determine restricted reporting, but they always have privileged communication with a victim, which would allow them to keep the information confidential.

All active duty service members are eligible for restricted reporting provided they have not notified their command, law enforcement or anyone serving in a mandatory reporting role.

With restricted reporting there are some benefits:
-- Victims may receive medical treatment, advocacy and counseling
-- Provides time for the victim to consider available options
-- Empowers the victim to seek relevant information and support to make informed decisions
-- Victims control the release and management of personal information, unless the exceptions apply
--Victims decide whether and when to move forward with initiating an investigation

There are also limitations to restricted reporting:
-- Victims cannot receive a military protective order
-- Victims may continue to have unwanted contact with alleged perpetrators since there is no provision for administrative reassignment
-- Evidence from the crime scene where the assault occurred will not be collected

If a victim chooses unrestricted reporting they may report directly to a law enforcement agency, the Office of Special Investigations or their chain of command. If a victim reports the assault to any military agency besides the SARC, healthcare personnel or victim advocate it may begin an investigation.

If a victim discusses the sexual assault with a third party, who then reports the assault, the third party's report may trigger an investigation, even though the victim may have chosen restricted reporting with the SARC.

Whether the victim chooses restricted or unrestricted reporting, the SARC is going to be involved.

Ms. Sherard ensures victims are properly advised of their options for restricted and unrestricted reporting and assists victims in obtaining necessary medical care.

The SARC doesn't do all this by herself -- she has the help of victim advocates, who she oversees, trains and, with the victim's consent, assigns to the victim to assist.

An Air Force victim advocate is a person who provides essential support, liaison services, advocacy and care to victims. Their responsibilities are to provide crisis intervention, referral and ongoing non-clinical support, including information on available options and resources to assist the victim in making informed decisions about the case. Victim advocacy services will continue until the victim states that support is no longer needed.

Not just anybody can be an advocate. Victim advocates are volunteers who must possess the maturity and experience to assist in a very sensitive situation.

First, potential advocates are screened and must meet certain eligibility requirements. Once they are accepted they must attend a 40-hour block of training, conducted by Ms. Sherard using military and civilian subject matter experts and mandatory Air Force material.

Victim advocates do not provide counseling or other professional services to a victim. They may accompany the victim, at the victim's request, during investigative interviews and medical examinations.

The Air Force SAPR Program reinforces the Air Force's commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual assault through a comprehensive policy that focuses on education, prevention, integrated victim response and support, rapid reporting through investigation, appropriate action and follow-up. Air Force policy promotes sensitive response and support for victims of sexual assault and accountability for those who commit these crimes.

For more information about the SAPR Program or to become a victim advocate, contact Ms. Sherard at 720-847-9414 or visit http://www.sapr.mil. If you have been assaulted, call the emergency SARC line at 720-847-SARC.
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