Help is available after a sexual assault

Nearly 600 sexual assaults were reported throughout the Air Force in fiscal 2009.

According to Department of Defense officials, the majority of men and women who experience a sexual assault — 78 percent and 79 percent, respectively — choose not to report the incident.

Victims don’t report sexual assaults for various reasons. They may blame themselves or think others blame them for what happened. They may fear their career will be jeopardized because of their involvement in an investigation or that others may question their lifestyle and choices.

The bravest thing a victim can do after a sexual assault is report it, and this is why I became a sexual assault prevention and response program victim advocate. I wanted to do whatever I could to help victims through the recovery process and make reporting the incident as easy as possible for them.

A victim advocate is a trained volunteer who provides one-on-one direct support to a victim. They assist victims through the initial response, investigation, legal and recovery processes. Although advocates don’t provide clinical counseling or legal and investigative guidance, they do provide information on available options and resources enabling the victim to make an informed decision.

Three reporting options are available to victims of a sexual assault: unrestricted, restricted and independent.

With an unrestricted report, the victim receives medical treatment, to include a sexual assault forensic examination, counseling and advocacy support. Through this option, the victim’s chain of command is notified, along with law enforcement and legal officials. An investigation begins and could go to trial if enough evidence is available.

A restricted report allows the victim access to all available support agencies, but an investigation isn’t started. Restricted reports are only reported to the sexual assault response coordinator, a victim advocate or health care provider. With this type of report, victims have the option to change from a restricted to an unrestricted report at a later time.

Independent reports are treated as unrestricted reports, but a person other than the victim initiates the report.

A large part of being a victim advocate is assisting with the recovery process. A survivor of rape, sexual abuse or assault will never fully forget what happened. A key part of recovery is for the victim to accept what happened and realize they aren’t the one to blame. Recovery involves the victim taking back the part of their life the perpetrator took away.

The first step to recovery is getting help. Before disclosing a sexual assault to anyone, victims should contact the SARC to discuss available options. If a report is first made to someone other than the SARC, victim advocate or health care provider, that person must report the assault.

Immediately after an assault, victims should call the SARC for help. They shouldn’t bathe, change clothes, brush their teeth, or eat or drink anything. Doing these things could void forensic evidence. A victim shouldn’t disturb or clean up the crime scene, in case investigators need to collect evidence.

A sexual assault is a life-changing experience, but there are people available who care and are willing to help a victim get through this difficult time.

(Editor’s Note: To report an incident within the Stuttgart military community, call the sexual assault response coordinator at 431-3342/civ. 07031-15-3342.