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Sexual assault hurts one, affects all

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator hopes to use this time to educate the Airmen of the wing on preventing sexual assault.

The Defense Department theme for this month's awareness campaign is "Hurts one. Affects all." This theme illustrates the importance of effectively dealing with a sexual assault before it causes irreversible damage to one of our own or a breakdown in the unit and subsequently mission effectiveness.

Capt. Ivan Jorge, 451st AEW SARC, has been a coordinator for a year and said there are various approaches to preventing sexual assault, but the most successful is bystander intervention.

"The concept of bystander intervention is where a third party, the bystander, witnesses certain behavior, that when left unchecked could lead to a sexual assault," Jorge said. "But if the bystander has the courage to step up and intervene she or he could defuse a potential sexual assault."

In other words, Airmen don't have to wait for a sexual assault to happen before they do something about it.

"You don't have to be a senior leader to intervene," he continued. "Intervention can be accomplished through various approaches, but the end should result in a positive outcome.

In line with the wingman concept, it's every Airman's responsibility to know how to respond to a victim of sexual assault.

"The time to figure out what you need to do is not when you have someone disclose to you that they have been sexually assaulted," Jorge said. "For most people, actions to take are quite simple and can be summarized in one or two simple steps. First, immediately call the SARC or a Victim Advocate."

On Kandahar Air Field, the SARC or a victim advocate can be reached 24 hours a day, every day, at 420-SARC (7272).

"Your second step should be to call the appropriate investigative agency if you are part of the member's chain of command and have been unmistakably informed of a sexual assault," Jorge continued.

The investigative agency that handles all sexual assault cases on KAF is the Army's Criminal Investigative Division. The Army CID can be contacted through the command post at 420-2012.

"Please do not ask the member any questions besides those needed to provide them immediate safety and urgent medical care," Jorge said. "If you are unsure if you are dealing with a sexual assault victim, please allow the member to contact the SARC or VA to discuss the situation further or to contact another helping agency. This will prevent re-victimization and possibly still preserve a member's restricted reporting option."

Supervisors should always be alert to signs that may indicate something bad might have happened to someone, such as depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse or threats of self harm.

"If you notice any signs that indicate you might be dealing with a sexual assault, please ask the member if they wish to speak with a Chaplain, SARC, VA or equal opportunity professional," Jorge said. "By doing so, you would be respecting and preserving a member's reporting options: restricted and unrestricted reporting."

Capt. Jorge said some of the most common mistakes that supervisors make when faced with a possible sexual assault situation are not offering or allowing members to contact a helping agency; not notifying the SARC or VA and CID of the situation themselves, which could result in personnel and legal actions against the supervisor per AFI 36-6001; and lastly, asking the member to explain what happened, which usually re-victimizes the member and automatically turns the statement into an unrestricted report.

"I understand that we usually ask what happened because we care and want to help," he said. "However, if the member divulges a sexual assault to the supervisor it will automatically take away the option for a restricted report and you could be re-victimizing the member, something we always want to prevent. It's important to stop them and get them in touch with a helping agency."

Supervisors are advised not to try to deal with a sexual assault allegation internally within the unit.

The DoD Safe Helpline is also a great option for victims. It offers free confidential information to members who are victims of sexual assault by means of the internet at or by telephone from DSN at 94 + 877-995-5247. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, worldwide.

Capt. Jorge not only provides support to the Airmen of the 451 AEW, but as the Air Force SARC for Regional Commands-South, Southwest, and West, he provides support to all Airmen in the southern half of Afghanistan. Because of his large area of responsibility, training victim advocates at other forward operating bases are important to his mission effectiveness.

"The 40 hour-trained victim advocates are important to my mission since they have extensive training in assisting victims of sexual assault, in the absence of a SARC at the more remote FOBs," he said. "We can always use more VAs and although we do not conduct the full 40-hour training program in the AOR, we do offer an eight-hour training course which allows us to add victim advocates to the ranks."

Members interested in this course should contact the SARC for further details.

Effective bystander intervention, coupled with the knowing how to reach out and help a possible sexual assault victim can stop the negative effects of a sexual assault on one Airman or an entire unit. As a good wingman, it is our responsibility to protect our fellow Airmen and keep our ranks strong and our mission infallible.