/ Published September 15, 2020
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People often say it’s important to talk to someone when a crisis happens. What if that crisis, though, is sexual assault? Discussing such a traumatic event, even with friends and family, may be extremely difficult for the victim.
“Just because you’re family, it doesn’t mean you need to ask a thousand questions and push it, and stress that person out even more. Just feel it out and be what that person needs,” said ‘Stephanie,’ who wishes to remain anonymous.
Stephanie reported herself as a victim of sexual assault two years ago. She recently spoke about her experience with Mamie Futrell, Sexual Assault Prevention Response coordinator at Joint Base Charleston, SC. Stephanie told Futrell she wasn’t sure what to do after being sexually assaulted.
“I confided in a friend and thankfully she knew what was going on, and she knew who to call,” Stephanie said.
Victims can talk to the SAPR office to discuss their options for reporting. If a victim decides to file a restricted report, confidential support is provided including Special Victims’ Counsel, medical and mental health, chaplain services and advocacy. If a victim decides to file an unrestricted report, this will trigger notification of the assault to law enforcement. Their command will also be notified.
Victims may change their restricted report to unrestricted at any time, but cannot change their unrestricted report to restricted. These are important distinctions for someone like Stephanie.
“If your supervisor is a good support or if you find yourself talking to your first sergeant because he helped you before on something else, those people are mandatory reporters,” Stephanie said.
It’s also important to note that chatting or texting about a sexual assault incident online involving Department of the Air Force personnel could inadvertently spark an investigation even if the report was originally restricted. The Office of Special Investigations is obligated to investigate all sexual assault incidents that come to their attention.
Once Stephanie filed a report, she said she was assigned a volunteer victim advocate who was very knowledgeable and able to answer a lot of questions, even while Stephanie was still in shock about the incident.
“She came up and she was like – hey, by the way do you have this? You have these rights. By the way you have these services. And these were things that made the process a whole lot less stressful to have her along with my SVC - my special victim counsel,” Stephanie said.
Futrell notes that a victim’s leadership has an important role to play in the response to sexual assault, but not all will know exactly what to do when a victim in their unit or office reports an incident. From a personal perspective, Stephanie said just knowing that you have the support and understanding of your supervisor can help a victim feel more comfortable at work.
Not all victims will react the same, though. Stephanie said some may not want to talk to their leaders face-to-face, but she said it’s important for leadership to offer encouragement whether through a phone call or an in-person conversation.
“Even if it’s just ‘hope you’re doing all right.’ The little things, just the smallest things can really brighten up somebody’s day coming from a commander or supervisor,” she said.
For Airmen and Space Professionals working alongside a victim of sexual assault, Stephanie is adamant about keeping gossip out of the units and offices. She said coworkers should always treat others with honor and respect, allowing them a right to privacy. She also urged her Wingmen to be sensitive of others around them.
“I think it’s important to keep the sexual comments and the sexual jokes completely out of the work centers,” Stephanie said.
“You never know who’s in the room with you. And one of your comments or one of your jokes can really put a damper on somebody’s week and somebody’s day. So I think it’s important to keep that in mind.”
Despite going through such a harrowing experience, Stephanie told Futrell she felt it was important for other Air and Space Professionals to know what resources and help are available, and that she is keenly aware of just how essential the training is for sexual assault prevention.
Futrell commended Stephanie on her courage to come forward to talk about her experience.
“My hope is that this interview does allow people to have a different insight, a different perspective on what their role is in the prevention and response side of sexual assault reporting. So thank you,” Futrell said.
Military Crisis Line
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