HEIDELBERG, Germany - Given the rising number of sexual assaults in the armed forces, the U.S. military is aiming to do what the rest of American society has yet to accomplish - changing people's perception of sexual assault.<br/><br/>"We're trying to do something in the military community that the society at large hasn't quite yet grasped," said Stuttgart sexual assault response coordinator Frances Anderson.<br/><br/>"When we hear about a girl who was raped at 2 in the morning after a night of drinking, we still have the tendency to think 'Well, what was she doing out drinking at 2 a.m.,'" she added.<br/><br/> Anderson was one of 52 participants at a recent two-day conference that brought together SARCs and unit victim advocates from throughout U.S. Army, Europe.<br/><br/>The first of its kind for the command, this seminar provided a venue for representatives to share experiences and ideas, and for members of the USAREUR Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program to give in-theater representatives a consistent, standard training, said Rosalind Dennis, the USAREUR SAPRP manager.<br/><br/> "It's absolutely critical that the victim knows where the resources are," said Brig. Gen. Russell L. Frutiger, chief of the USAREUR personnel section, the proponent of the conference. "(SARCs) are the first person the victim will see. I hope they walk away from this training with a better understanding of their mission and the importance of the bond they form with the victim."<br/><br/>The educational role of a SARC, according to Dennis, is to provide sexual assault awareness and prevention training to the community. On a more personal basis, SARCs explain the advocacy services and reporting options available to victims, including a referral to a UVA.<br/><br/>Along with the responsibilities of SARCs and UVAs, the conference addressed an assortment of topics, ranging from proper reporting procedures to the significance of handling sexual assault cases objectively.<br/><br/>"Keep your biases on a shelf at home," said Suzanne Dubois, the Installation Management Agency-Europe SAPRP manager, when speaking about the diverse cases that SARCs will see.<br/><br/>SARCs are recommended by the chain of command, and approved by battalion commanders. Conference members made it clear, though, that SARCs and UVAs should ensure they are in the program for the right reasons before they accept the responsibility. <br/><br/>"You're not here for a bullet point on your (noncommissioned officer evaluation report) - you're here for the victim," said Master Sgt. Chris M. Warner, equal opportunity advisor and deployable SARC/UVA for the 18th Military Police Brigade. "If your heart is not in it, get out."<br/><br/>As part of the conference, Warner led a panel discussion of four currently or previously deployed SARCs. The panelists shared their downrange experiences and also discussed the fine line that SARCs and UVAs need to walk between approachability and discretion.<br/><br/>"You have to be friendly," said 1st Lt. Jocelyn Simmons, deployed SARC for NATO Headquarters, U.S. National Support Element, Sarajevo, "but if you're the type of person who's constantly putting their business out there, people will not feel comfortable coming to you."<br/><br/>The conference was an enhancement of training that representatives constantly undergo, but the premise of the training was an issue of sadness for one UVA.<br/><br/>"The reason we're here - that sexual assaults are happening in the military - is sad, but this has allowed me to see the bigger picture," said Master Sgt. Michele Sherri Jackson, UVA for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade.<br/><br/>"We need to get out there and do what we have to do to eliminate, or at the very least, minimize these assaults," she stressed.<br/><br/>A veteran of almost 20 years, Jackson said she's grateful for the current program. In the old Army system, the first person victims spoke to was their first-line NCO.<br/><br/>"Back then you were judged by what type of Soldier you were," Jackson said, "and regardless of the victimization you'd gone through, you were treated according to that judgment."<br/><br/>For such reasons, in 2004 the Department of Defense directed the establishment of a task force to review the effectiveness of the military's policies on reporting and addressing sexual assaults.<br/><br/>The USAREUR SAPRP, established in April 2005, is based on an assessment of data the initial task force gathered. Anderson referenced this fact when explaining how important it is for SARCs to keep a record of the resources victims use.<br/><br/>"This system accountability is important to continue assessing and bettering our program," she said.<br/><br/>Awareness also was a heavily addressed topic at the conference. Considering the role SARCs play in awareness and education, several speakers stressed how important it is for SARCs to truly internalize their job and understand why they're doing it - which was clear to attendees.<br/><br/>"They believe in the program. That passion is clear," Simmons said of her fellow SARCs and UVAs.<br/><br/>She added that she hopes that passion is strong enough to provoke a change and eliminate sexual assault in the community for good.<br/><br/>

Page last updated Sun September 17th, 2006 at 20:28