By Katie Lange
The Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) works continuously to ensure service members get the help they need. To uphold this mission, SAPRO strives to make certain those who support and assist victims have all the latest information.
This effort was recently highlighted during the 43rd National Organization for Victim Assistance Training Event in San Diego, where a huge military presence turned out. Event organizers said more than 500 service members and DoD civilians were there, accounting for nearly a third of the 1,600 people in attendance.
There were more than 100 presentations and workshops for service sexual assault prevention and response (SAPR) personnel to attend, ranging from crisis tips to mock exercises that will help hone key skills that better assist survivors of this crime.
During a session called Military Monday, experts from SAPRO were able to share resources and explain what the department has learned with other practitioners in the SAPR community. A panel discussion gave the services the opportunity to ask questions of SAPRO leadership. The attendees – nearly 600 of them – were energetic and engaged, offering an impressive amount of participation and insight from the field. That feedback, from NOVA and other events, will help inform departmental program and policy enhancements aimed to address military sexual assault.
“We were particularly excited by the large numbers of DoD SAPR personnel at Military Monday and at presentations throughout the week, as well as their high levels of participation and engagement,” said Bette Inch, SAPRO’s Senior Victim Assistance Advisor. “These personnel have a real passion for their jobs, and it was a privilege to be part of their learning experience.”
RADM Ann Burkhardt, the director of DoD SAPRO, gave a speech at the opening of the week-long event to service SAPR personnel, thanking them for their efforts on behalf of sexual assault survivors and for advocating for victims’ rights. RADM Burkhardt also praised these key practitioners for their enthusiasm in delivering high-quality care to every survivor.
While acknowledging that sexual assault continues to be a significant challenge in the military, she shared what is showing promise for the DoD – thanks, in part, to the sharing of best practices from the civilian community.
Collaboration, Community, Commitment
At the event, civilian partners worked with DoD’s experts to provide advanced victim advocacy training that met or exceeded standards of the National Advocate Credentialing Program, allowing DoD attendees to receive DoD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program continuing education credits, a requirement for advocates to renew their credentials. Through this collaboration, SAPRO has developed a cadre of credentialed advocates who stand ready to serve military sexual assault survivors – more than 24,000 service members and DoD civilians are currently certified across the department.
Through the DoD community, advocates who are a lifeline for survivors don’t have to be the only people to help victims put their lives back together. SAPR programs in every service have a multifaceted team of experts to assist with reporting, health care, the investigative process and the legal process. Experts include Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Victim Advocates, medical forensic examiners, the Special Victims’ Counsel and Victim’s Legal Counsel legal personnel, military chaplains, criminal investigators, inspectors general and special victims’ prosecutors.
Burkhardt also reiterated the military’s commitment to the mission and how it starts from the top.
“We are an organization comprised of people who understand what this problem means to an effective fighting force. We engage every individual – from the Secretary of Defense … to the newest recruits and future service members on delayed entry – to be part of the solution,” she said. “This issue is lethal to our military and we must continue to do everything in our power to eradicate it from our force.”
While recent DoD data shows sexual assault is occurring less often among service members, and a greater share of service members are choosing to report the notoriously underreported crime, Burkhardt was quick to point out that progress didn’t mean success.
“Despite major declines in occurrences of sexual assault, far too many of our people still find their lives changed by a perpetrator of this crime. And far too many continue to suffer in silence,” she said. “Units are divided when cohesiveness is shattered with the broken bond of trust.”
The NOVA Training Event is just one of many throughout the year that help SAPR personnel further develop their skills as practitioners. The unprecedented turnout and participation of SAPR personnel from across the department shows the dedication and commitment the military has to tackling this issue.
For free confidential assistance, call the DoD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247 or visit safehelpline.org.