PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Oren Gilbert wears many hats. He’s a husband, a father, an Army veteran, a contract specialist and a big Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. But two years ago he added yet another hat to those he wears; a sexual assault Victim’s Advocate.
“For a long time, I never knew of anyone who’d been affected by an assault,” said Gilbert. “Not until my military training in Texas.”
The technical training in Texas served as a tool for Gilbert to progress in his Army career; but it also served as one of the events that would shape the rest of his life.
“One day I walked into the barracks and I witnessed several individuals sexually assaulting another person,” said Gilbert. “To go from not even knowing anyone who’d been sexually assaulted to walking in on one was a rude awakening. I was completely shocked.”
Though he was stunned, he knew he had to act.
“I immediately broke up the assault,” recalled Gilbert. “I assisted the victim the best I could but they asked me not to say anything to anyone about what I’d seen.”
When taking the victim back to their barracks, Gilbert stressed the importance of seeking medical assistance or reporting the assault to the military police – but the victim refused.
“The victim told me they didn’t think anything would happen to their attackers and nobody would believe them,” said Gilbert. “I couldn’t believe it. Why wouldn’t anyone believe you? I shipped out of the barracks the next morning and I never saw the person again.”
For years this weighed heavy on Gilbert’s mind. He was furious, confused and lost at the thought of how he could help make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else.
“I made a promise not to tell anyone,” Gilbert said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I decided that I would not passively stand by and risk another sexual assault victim feeling like they have no one to turn to and no safe-haven. I decided to become that safe-haven.”
“Us Victim’s Advocates, we’re a lot more than just someone who comes and briefs your squadron about sexual assault prevention,” said Gilbert. “We’re the ones you can go to if you’ve been assaulted and you aren’t comfortable talking to anyone about it. We have resources to help you through it. Whether it’s sitting down and talking you through it, referring you to a professional counselor, or helping to get you medical treatment.”
“If you want to keep the report of your assault private, we can help you file a restricted report,” Gilbert explained. “With a Restricted Report, you can receive medical treatment, legal services, counseling and other services without starting an official investigation.”
The other side of reporting a sexual assault is an Unrestricted Report.
“If you choose to file an Unrestricted Report, you’re giving us permission to let the proper authorities and your chain of command know what happened,” said Gilbert. “Once you open your report to Unrestricted, you cannot go back to a Restricted Report.”
One recovery option a Victim’s Advocate can present to an assault survivor, is begin the process for an expedited transfer of duty station.
“If you’re assaulted by someone in your workplace, working with them every day can be further traumatizing,” said Gilbert. “With an expedited transfer, you can be approved to PCS to another installation. This process is approved by the Wing commander, so an Unrestricted Report must be filed in order to open this option up.”
In addition to recovery services that aid those affected by sexual assault, Gilbert said there is another thing that he holds close to his heart when teaching others about sexual assault prevention.
“Women aren’t the only ones sexually assaulted,” said Gilbert. “It happens to men. It happens to every race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. My biggest goal is to make sure people know that. You won’t be looked at differently if you’re sexually assaulted and you’re a male. You won’t be treated differently, nor will your case be handled differently. Everyone is treated with the same respect and dignity.”
For Gilbert, the most incredible part of being a Victim’s Advocate is being able to help sexual assault survivors and their families feel less like victims and more like survivors.
For more information on sexual assault prevention and response or to volunteer as a Victim’s Advocate, go to your installation Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, or visit https://www.af.mil/SAPR/.