Friday, November 16, 2012

Victim Advocates: rewards without recognition

by Airman 1st Class Marianique Santos
36th Wing Public Affairs

11/16/2012 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Sexual assaults can happen anywhere, within or outside the military. The victim advocates program is one way the Air Force supports sexual assault victims within its community, regardless if the assault happened before or during the Airman's time in the service.

The victim advocates program is spearheaded by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. It is SAPR's mission to reinforce the Air Force's commitment to eliminating sexual assault through a comprehensive program that provides prevention and awareness education. The office also ensures compassionate and effective response for survivors, cultivating a base-wide wingman culture that is founded on mutual respect and trust.

"Sexual assault is one of those egregious crimes that greatly alter a victim's life," said 1st Lt. Masha Scheglov, Andersen's sexual assault response coordinator. "People often have the misconception that victims can continue on and function as they did prior to the sexual assault if the situation happened years ago. What they don't understand is that it can later affect how they do their job."

Along with affecting job performance, such events can affect the individual on a personal level, possibly altering their personas, relationships, motivation and even aspirations.

"We need to take care of our Airmen's well-being on the individual level in order for them to support the mission to their full capability," she continued. "That's why it's important that there are people to help these victims start regaining control of their own lives after a traumatic experience."

The victim advocates program is open to all active-duty military members. Airmen who volunteer for the program take time out of their schedule to ensure that victims seek the appropriate agencies and get the assistance and support that they need.

"We have an on-call phone which we rotate on a weekly basis," said Emily Calland, SAPR assistant. "If we receive a call from a victim and they request a victim advocate, the Airman holding the phone should be able to respond 24/7. When assigned to a victim, the victim advocate should be available to assist and accompany victims to medical appointments and forensic examinations if needed. Ultimately, they should be a presence that the victim can rely on."

Aside from being an active-duty Airman, there are certain qualities and skills that Airmen must develop should they aspire to become an effective victim advocate.

"It is important that a victim advocate has the ability to listen, withhold judgment, be physically and emotionally available and try to understand how it is to be in the victim's situation," said Mrs. Calland.

Additionally, a unit commander must give approval for an Airman to join the program, a proof of understanding that the Airman could be pulled from their primary duties to support a victim.

One of the main things that is stressed throughout victim advocate training is protecting the victim's privacy. One way SAPR protects this right is by assigning a victim advocate to a victim from a different unit. The victim advocate also signs a statement upon entering the program saying that that they understand that anything said between the victim and the advocate is completely confidential.

Along with supporting victims of sexual harassment, victim advocates also assist SAPR in conducting briefings and presentations for the First Term Airman Course, newcomers' brief, wingman days and more.

With the Department of Defense's SAPR regulations being rewritten, Air Force SAPR offices are currently pausing victim advocate training. It is anticipated that when the new guidance is released, requirements are going to be more stringent, making the program even more effective in helping sexual assault victims.

"When they release the documentation, they want victim advocates to be nationally certified, giving future victim advocates training and credentials that they may be able to use beyond their Air Force careers," said Lieutenant Scheglov.

The victim advocates program is not the only way to contribute to the plight of sexual assault prevention.

"If being a victim advocate is not for an individual, there are other ways to support SAPR," said Lieutenant Scheglov. "One of our busiest months is Sexual Assault Awareness month which occurs in April of every year. Throughout the month, we put together special events, programs and 5K runs. Such events provide great opportunities for our Airmen to be actively participating in the prevention of sexual assault."

Whether or not an individual wants to be a victim's advocate or simply a volunteer for events promoting awareness, supporting the SAPR program is highly encouraged. Though the Airmen's contributions could earn them bullets for enlisted performance reports, most receive the reward of gratitude from people whose lives were saved or changed for the better.

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