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Know your options for reporting sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Capt. Alicia Thompson
  • Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
Within the past few months, there have been many articles addressing sexual assault in the military. Time, CNN and Stars and Stripes have all written articles that state the number of sexual assaults in the military is increasing. I am happy to know that the number of reported sexual assaults has gone up. That means all the hard work I have been doing for the past 5 years is paying off.

Increasing numbers doesn't mean the number of sexual assaults has risen, but instead, it means more people feel comfortable coming forward to report such a horrific act. Before 2005, there was no process in place to give victims the time they needed to come forward and report an assault; an automatic investigation was launched.

As we commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, we need to think about the reporting process and make sure we, as supervisors, leaders, and potential victims, fully understand it. If we do not understand the reporting process, we are potentially taking away a victim's choice. I know we hear the briefings from the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) annually, pre-deployment, post-deployment, Right Start, etc., but are we really listening? My last four victims never believed it would happen to them, but it did. They saw the posters in the bathroom, but they never thought they needed to know the information.

If you are a supervisor, you need to know that if you think your Airman is about to tell you that they have been sexually assaulted, you need to stop them before they say anything else. You need to explain to them that if they say anything more to you, they will lose their restricted reporting option. They should go speak to a chaplain, SARC, Victim Advocate (VA) or medical personnel - any other servicemember or DoD civilian is mandated by law to report a sexual assault as soon as they hear about it.

If you are a potential victim, it is crucial to understand that if you tell anyone other than a SARC, VA, chaplain or medical worker you will lose your restricted reporting option. If you are a victim and do not want your chain of command to know, do not tell anyone other than a SARC, VA, chaplain or medical worker.

Once the SARC knows there is a victim, they will assign a VA. The assigned VA will meet with the victim as soon as possible and provide the victim information on the sexual assault response process, unrestricted reporting and the option of restricted reporting. The victim will acknowledge his or her understanding of the restricted reporting process; i.e., that restricted reporting necessarily limits, in an effort to protect the victim's privacy, the ability of the Air Force to investigate and take action. Victims should be made aware of protections available when making unrestricted reports.

Do I think the program is perfect? No, but we have come a long way. More and more Airmen understand sexual assault and its harmful effects than ever before. We now have reporting options, SARCs, VAs and a program in place. We just need people to listen and do the right thing.