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PREVENTING SEXUAL ASSAULT: Two Years Later, Who Cares?

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The real measure of the success of anything is often found in the way it is embraced in the culture...how individuals, families, friends, communities and leaders esteem its importance. I pose the question, "Who Cares/" to begin looking at all facets of our society, as it relates to the prevention of sexual assault.

There is dual meaning in the phrasing of this question, which both wonders if anyone cares and at the same time calls attention to the possibility that perhaps there are those who do. The answer, in part, is found in the inception of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program. This program was delivered throughout the Department of Defense, exactly 2 years ago (June 2005). It is important to note that no matter the circumstances that contributed to the creation of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) position, someone cared enough to provide active duty military personnel a way to conceal their identity through the "restricted reporting" option. This enhanced the opportunity for victims to seek services, support and information, not previously at their disposal.

Success of this endeavor, however, remains to be seen and will be measured in the evolving of our culture into one which allows victims to come out of the shadows, without fear of blame, ridicule or reprisal. Until then we will not know the full range of our achievements. Success is assessed by having open and extensive discussions about the behaviors (exhibited by victims, offenders, bystanders and facilitators) that increase risk to support the perpetration of this crime. For now, we are satisfied that the discussions have begun.

On Eglin Air Force Base, first responders care as noted by frequent collaboration with the SARC to improve processes that: ensure victim privacy; decrease gaps and overlaps in services; assure that no one "falls through the cracks"; participation in training to the community and periodic "first responders' training.

Leaders care by providing opportunities for the SARC to brief and train military and appropriate civilian personnel; by participation in annual training; by allowing trainers to be trained; by encouraging personnel to become active participants in the volunteer victim advocate program; by appointment of trusted agents within their organizations to develop wingman initiatives; by understanding factors that contribute to sexual assault (primarily alcohol, drug and often age) and by recognizing that these are commonly factors that crossover into other at risk behaviors like: relationship issues; DUI; suicide; workplace violence, etc.

Victim Advocates care by committing to forty hours of initial training and monthly on-going training, which prepares them to support victims and carry key messages of prevention. On Eglin over fifty men and women have received this training. Eglin also provides five hours of community agency "off-site" training, contributing to their readiness to meet the needs of victims.

The community cares by providing feedback. Following training, briefings and information exhibits their comments help to redesign the format for presentations. Phone requests for information to support family and friends (including ones out of state) and tangible contributions to support victim, speaks volumes about the community's willingness to care. It has been their inquires and questions posed by victims that inspired the Eglin SARC to write a 16 page informational handout entitled, "Time To Heal". The off-base community cares by supporting training initiatives on Eglin and has decided to replicate a proposal made by the Eglin SARC, to provide all victims who submit to forensic medical exam with a "victim assistance kit".

The Eglin SARC's priority is to create sustainable processes and systems that engage the entire community in risk reduction. The first task has been to unearth myths and mysteries that surround this crime. This is achieved through education and training, aggressive awareness campaigns and community involvement. Engaging men in the battle against sexual assault is also critical and while we are pleased to have trained six male advocates the challenge of deployment and PCS is ever before us.

The real measure of the success of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program will not be found in how many activities we plan and implement or solely in the number of reports received. Program success, particularly as it relates to prevention, does not come overnight. It comes with methodical, well thought out, intentional evidence-based program development. It comes with a firm grasp on understanding that a complex issue "sexual assault" requires complex approaches, uniquely designed for each community.

Sexual assault prevention: Who cares? We hope the answer is "you". Our success depends on your involvement To report a sexual assault or for addition information, please contact the Eglin SARC, Debbie Allen at 882-2122 or 240-3219 (24/7 reporting).

"Stand Up Against Sexual Assault, Make A Difference"!

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