A Deployed SARC's Perspective: We Turn Victims into Survivors

Capt. Lucia White, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing sexual assault response coordinator, works from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 17, 2017. As the sole SARC for the 332nd AEW, White is responsible for all reports brought to her office, both restricted and unrestricted. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Damon Kasberg)

Capt. Lucia White, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing sexual assault response coordinator, works from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 17, 2017. As the sole SARC for the 332nd AEW, White is responsible for all reports brought to her office, both restricted and unrestricted. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Damon Kasberg)

SOUTHWEST ASIA --

Mr. SARC,

 

You probably don't remember me but over ten years ago you helped me through a sexual assault. Although the process was painfully long and drawn out, you were always comforting me, telling me that speaking out was the right thing to do, encouraging me for personal resilience, providing honest feedback about the uncomfortable process, and reminding me that everything was going to be okay in the end. I am writing this to say thank you. When all the legal matters were considered complete, I PCS'd rather quickly and never felt that I said thank you enough. I want you to know how grateful I am about how you and the OSI Agents treated me. I always felt respected. I hear terrible stories in the media and from friends of how victims of assault are treated by officials. You should be very proud that you did something very right. You prepared me with the terrible questions I would be asked by the defense attorneys', and you reminded me that because I didn't let this guy slide, that maybe I saved another girl or guy from having to experience the terror that I endured or far worse. I was hesitant to write this but was encouraged when I approached my current base SARC. It helps me to feel just a little bit more closure by letting you know that I am doing very well. I remain sensitive to the subject particularly when people discuss their hesitation to believe a victim and easy punishments for violators. But I have grown and come a long way. I am happily married with a bunch of children and continue to serve my country with Dignity. Even though there will always be skeptics until they learn the hard way, I want to thank you for believing in me and never showing that you doubted me. Please know that I will always think of you and your team fondly and with warm wishes.

 

Forever Grateful,

 

Anonymous Survivor

 

                On an average deployed morning, I had a visitor come into my office to talk about what I thought would be work. To my surprise they sat down in one of my office chairs and started to choke up as they shared with me their experience with the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. I would have never known, or even guessed, this bright shining Airman had endured the unthinkable. Though still incredibly difficult to share, they did not allow the assault to hold them back from excelling in the Air Force. In fact, this person is a beacon of hope and a prime example of the exemplary work our sexual assault response coordinators and SAPR victim advocates exude in turning victims into survivors. It had been years since the assault, but they told me how the SARC had gone above and beyond to get them a permanent change of station before expedited transfers were part of SAPR policy. As they continued to share with me their story, it was apparent they wished to find the SARC who helped them. Through a few emails I was able to track down the person, who was still working for the Air Force, but in another capacity other than SAPR, and put them in contact via the letter above.

                It is good-news stories like this which make the special duty of SARC so rewarding, though victim advocacy has been more taxing of a job than I could have ever imagined. It is no easy feat to see the pain of a victim, while being their voice and strength during time of great difficulty. I have learned the true definition of empathy and what it means to truly be there for someone and sometimes even suffering compassion fatigue myself. However, through it all I have found inspiration when I see a victim make the transformation to survivor. As once said by Viktor Frankl, famous psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” I see those words ring true when watching a SAPR case move from opened to closed. A sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time. The crime is not discriminative of gender, age, rank or race. Thus, with any trauma or what life throws at us, we are measured by our attitudes and how we choose to deal with the situation.

                More often than not, victims choose to deal with the situation on their own and decide not to seek help. Sometimes it is systemic of victim blaming or feeling shame for it happening to them. Other times, individuals do not realize what the SAPR program offers in the healing process. I had one such victim tell me they would have sought out the SARC years earlier had they known what our program offers.

 In the age of by-stander intervention training and readiness, it is still important to be aware that sexual assaults can still happen. Predators are good at what they do and are called such a name for a reason. While the newly released SAPR annual report shows a tapering off of sexual assaults in the military, it also sheds light that there is an increased propensity of civilian perpetrators in the last 10 years. Therefore, now it is as important as ever to advertise SAPR services, as no one should have to deal with an assault on their own.

                If I could offer one piece of advice to a victim on the fence about seeking out the SARC it would be this: For every one victim who comes forward, there are approximately 7-15 who do not. Find solace in the fact you could help eliminate future assaults by coming forward with an unrestricted case. Nevertheless, simply coming to see the SARC, mental health professional or chaplain for help is just as noble as filing a report, either restricted or unrestricted. The primary goal of the SAPR program is not to report the crime, but to help victims transform into survivors who flourish and return to full duty in our Air Force. Please remember, a sexual assault does not and will not define you! What defines someone is how they handle situations, both positive and negative. The victims can rely on the legal advice of the special victims’ counsel, the spiritual rebalance of seeing a chaplain, and the mentorship from a volunteer victim advocate.

For supervisors: believe the victim. The bravery it takes to come forward speaks volumes. Their trust was broken in some shape or capacity; thus, what they need from you more than anything is trust and faith you will help them. We need more letters like the one written above. Foster the environment for those 32 percent of victims to come forward, and empower those to help their friends and coworkers continue to close the gap on prevalence and reporting.

                And, thank you Anonymous Survivor for sharing your story.