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Empowering survivors: Confronting sexual assault, supporting healing, and promoting awareness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Melody Bordeaux
  • 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

As April marks Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, it's important to acknowledge the issue at hand.

A study conducted in February 2018 by RALIANCE, a national partnership dedicated to ending sexual violence, found that nationally, 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and, or, assault in their lifetime.

These alarming statistics underscore the urgency for increased awareness and proactive measures to combat sexual violence.
Sexual violence is any sexual harassment, coercion, exploitation, and non-contact forms of sexual abuse such as verbal harassment or threats. It’s necessary to distinguish the differences between harassment and assault, as one can potentially escalate into the other, and recognize sexual violence can occur within relationships, communities, institutions, or in public spaces.
“Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors whether done verbally or physically, but not involving direct sexual contact,” defined a Joint Base San Antonio Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team representative. “Sexual assault is intentional sexual contact without consent.”
The JBSA SAPR team representative further elaborated that the process of sexual harassment leading to sexual assault is called the Continuum of Harm.
“Sexual predators utilize grooming techniques, often making subtle remarks and sexual advances or comments to a specific individual or individuals, as a means to gauge how much they can push the boundaries,” explained a JBSA SAPR team representative. “Although the predator is responsible for their own behavior, bystanders may be able to help by using intervention techniques such as, directly informing the potential predator to stop, delegating another individual to help, distracting the potential predator, or moving the individual being targeted away from the potential predator to stop the behavior immediately.”
It is paramount for bystanders to speak up, as it aids in the prevention of sexual assault. However, if, unfortunately, the situation escalates to sexual assault, through the JBSA SAPR Office there are two reporting options: Unrestricted and Restricted. Understanding the differences between the options available to service members and dependents over the age of 18 is important to ensure they receive the best support they may need.
Unrestricted Reports allow adult victims of sexual assault to report crimes without requesting confidentiality of their allegations. Department of Defense law enforcement initiates an investigation, and the chain of command is notified. This option provides victims with access to medical treatment, advocacy services, legal support, and eligibility for expedited transfer. In addition, Unrestricted Reporting allows victims of sexual assault to report retaliation in the SAPR program.
Restricted Reports allow adult victims of sexual assault to confidentially report the crime to specified individuals without triggering an investigation. Information provided to the chain of command does not reveal personally identifying information about the victim or alleged offender. Restricted Reporting allows the victim to receive legal advice, medical treatment, and advocacy services.
Please see the dedicated response personnel DOD SAPR page for more information on the professionals available to provide advocacy, information, and resources to survivors.
“Because the survivor’s autonomy was taken away, we don’t want to force them into doing something they may not be ready to do,” explained a JBSA SAPR team representative. “However, we encourage them not to wait too long to seek help in dealing with their traumatic experience as holding on to trauma can lead to an array of internal and external problems such as depression, anxiety, and self-harm. While our JBSA SAPR team are not therapists or psychologists, we can guide them towards proper clinical mental and physical care.”
Lt. Col. Kirsten DeLambo, 59th Medical Operations Squadron psychological health director, notes that individuals who have experienced sexual assault often feel uneasy about discussing it or hesitant to seek help, but it's important for them to know they are not alone.
“You decide who you would like to confide in, whether clinical or non-clinical support,” emphasized DeLambo. “It takes a great deal of courage to ask for help, however, there can be so much relief in doing so.”
The JBSA SAPR team encourages sexual assault survivors to seek help to aid in their coping and healing process on their own terms.
“When a survivor chooses to receive counseling, the counselor will prioritize the survivor's pace to ensure safety and a sense of control throughout the sessions,” explained DeLambo. “The benefits of counseling can include an increased sense of support, empowerment, a decrease in mental health-related symptoms, and an overall improvement in well-being and functioning.”
Remember, no matter your needs, you are not alone. Let's all speak out when we see something, raise awareness about sexual assault, and support survivors. For more information and resources contact your local JBSA SAPR Office and see the DOD SAPR Office. For immediate assistance, contact the JBSA SAPR Hotline at 210-808-7272 or the DOD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247.