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Supporting sexual assault survivors

Story by Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols

19th Airlift Wing

Sexual Assault Awareness Month brings attention to the options available to those affected by conduct that falls short of the standards expected of individuals in uniform.

A U.S. Air Force priority is taking care of Airmen and families, and wingmen are responsible for assisting a survivor in speaking up. The support from friends and family after an incident may help the survivor recover.

There are two fundamental steps before doing anything that could help the person feel safe.

“First, you have to let them know you are sorry for what happened,” said Linda Benjamin, 19th Airlift Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. “Secondly, give them back their sense of control by telling them they have choices.”

Giving the survivor options rather than personal opinions gives them the voice that was taken away by the assault, Benjamin said.

“The main thing is to be there for them; they came to you because they trust you,” Benjamin said. “It’s important they know you aren’t going to break that trust.”

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office has individuals who are trained in the way forward after an assault. Giving survivors the option of visiting this office first, helps provide them information to choose the appropriate avenue for their situation.

Military dependents over the age of 18 can also visit the SAPR Office, while those under the age of 18 are directed to Family Advocacy.

“SAPR is one of many helping agencies and we will make sure an individual’s confidentiality is kept if at all possible,” said Karen Hubbard, victim’s advocate. “Our job is to make sure they’re okay and to help in any way shape or form. There will be no judgment from us no matter what.”

Knowing the outlets for seeking help as a wingman can ensure that individuals are cared for.

“Give them two options and let them decide where to go,” Benjamin said. “If they come to the SAPR, we can help determine what to do from there.”

The Air Force has two different methods for reporting sexual assault: restricted and unrestricted reporting.

Restricted reporting allows a victim to report a sexual assault without starting an investigation and can be elevated to an unrestricted report in the future if the individual so chooses. It doesn’t result in an investigation without the survivors consent and is intended to give them time and control over the release of their information, empowering them to make an informed decision about participating in the investigation process.

Unrestricted reporting is any report of sexual assault made through normal channels such as the Airman’s chain of command, security forces and the Air Force Office of Investigation. Unrestricted reporting does not offer the same discretion as restricted reporting but directly results in an investigation unlike the latter.

It’s the survivor’s choice whether or not to report the crime, but presenting choices rather than making one for them could help them feel empowered to reach out for care and assistance.

Before and after the individual has stepped forward, it’s important they feel safe at work and home.

“To support the victim, help stop workplace rumors by reminding others they don’t know all the facts,” Benjamin said. “Avoiding gossip within the work environment gives the person privacy needed to feel safe.”

Giving the person space to choose their avenue of care and stomping out rumors gives them control over their situation and creates an environment of support, something all Airmen should strive to provide.

For more information, contact the 24/7 SAPR hotline at (501) 987-7272.

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