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Victim advocates provide selfless service for Airmen

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFNS) -- When an Airman is assaulted, representatives of the Air Force’s own Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Victim Advocate program stand ready to assist.

Victim advocates are active-duty military members certified by the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program. They are selected by the installation's sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) to provide essential support, liaison services and care to victims.

"Victim advocates deliver the services and assist victims in navigating and understanding the system. Their role is to be available anytime of the day or night to help victims identify needs and address issues," said Sharon Smart, a 2nd Bomb Wing SAPR victim advocate. "They help protect victims from further trauma by preparing them for interviews and examinations and by ensuring their safety."

Responsibilities of an advocate include providing crisis intervention, referral and ongoing nonclinical support, as well as providing information on available options and resources to assist the victim in making informed decisions. They may accompany the victim to medical, investigative, legal and court proceedings with permission.

One 2nd Bomb Wing sexual assault victim advocate said the responsibilities direct him to take a selfless approach when assisting others and getting them back on track.

"If someone's had this devastating event, you want to let them know it is not their fault, make sure they go through a healing process and get back to a point of empowerment," said Staff Sgt. Hersey Pulley.

When victims see the light at the end of the tunnel, is what Pulley said gives him the drive to continue.

"There are times where everything is going wrong; the victim feels like they are being persecuted, people are looking down upon them, they regret saying anything," Pulley said. "The moment where they turn around … is extremely powerful."

Volunteers go through an elaborate selection and certification process in order to provide the best service to victims. This includes an interview with the SARC, attending 40-hour training and obtaining a DOD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification.

"I expect victim advocates to be professional, act with integrity and ensure that victims are protected and treated with respect and dignity,” Smart said. "Potential volunteers should be nonjudgmental, patient, trustworthy, understanding, excellent communicators and be emotionally strong."

The dedication of a victim advocate goes to a whole new level. They ensure the victim continues to receive the necessary care and support until the victim states or the SARC determines support is no longer needed.

"In this program you have to take your time; if you jump in head first thinking you have it figured out you're going to hurt yourself and potentially the victim," Pulley said. "My advice for those interested is to take it to heart, be prepared for the positives and negatives and go slow and steady."

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