Shedding light on sexual assault
July 28, 2009
BAGHDAD - Sexual assault is an issue that affects all Soldiers - deployed or back at home stations. Since February 2009, there have been several reported cases of sexual assault in the Multi-National Division-Baghdad's area of responsibility, which raised the need for awareness, according to Lt. Col. Barry Dickerson, the sexual assault prevention and response program manager for MND-B.
Sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not know or does not consent, according to Dickerson.
If an MND-B Soldier is sexually assaulted, there are a number of options available to deal with the situation.
Victim advocacy is headed at the division level by Sgt. 1st Class Tamatha Denton, the deployable sexual assault response coordinator (DSARC) for MND-B. Her role is to be the interface to the DSARCs in the brigades to make sure the program is implemented correctly. There are two unit victim advocates per battalion, according to Dickerson.
The unit victim advocate is the focal point of victim advocacy; their purpose is to provide crisis intervention, according to Denton.
"They are there to make sure that the victim, him or her, is provided the care needed," the native of New York said. "It basically means guiding the victim through medical, legal and investigative processes and make sure that Soldier understands the processes."
Once a victim has come forward, their assigned UVA will continue advocacy duties for as long as the victim requests them, according to Sgt. 1st Class Gino Burns, from Carlisle, Penn., the deployable sexual assault response coordinator for the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
"To be an advocate is to be an understanding, unbiased, caring individual," he said. "UVAs must be strong NCOs or officers, hence the reason every UVA must be a staff sergeant or higher, with a clean ethical background and great character."
Soldiers who have been sexually assaulted have the right to report the incident in a restricted or unrestricted manner, Denton explained.
Unrestricted reporting involves the chain of command and law enforcement. "Law enforcement gets involved, [Criminal Investigation Division] gets involved and the Soldier still gets care," said Denton.
Restricted reporting keeps the incident confidential and offers medical treatment and counseling. This gives the victim the option to keep things quiet if they desire, according to Denton. "There are a number of reasons why some victims don't report," she explained. "Most of it is fear: fear of reprisal; fear that they will be subject to ridicule; also collateral misconduct." Collateral misconduct involves a situation where the Soldier might be in violation of a regulation such as General Order No. 1, which could have ramifications for the victim as well as the offender.
For someone wishing restricted reporting, certain guidelines must be followed, Dickerson explained.
"It's important to note that only the DSARC, unit victim advocate, chaplain and medical personnel have an obligation to keep the incident confidential," he said. "If they go outside these four, which we call the circle of confidentiality, it then becomes unrestricted and chain of command gets involved."
To make sure the system continually evolves to meet the needs of Soldiers, MND-B has a sexual assault review board which meets monthly to make sure everything goes smoothly, according to Dickerson.
"That's the [commanding general's] executive-level board, offering oversight on the execution of the sexual assault prevention and response program," he said. "We meet monthly to see how we can improve on the response, victim advocacy and accountability."
While there are a number of options available to victims of sexual assault, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
"The number one prevention measure we have is the battle buddy," said Dickerson. "There has not been one sexual assault in the three years that I have been in this position, especially in a deployed environment, where someone was sexually assaulted with a battle buddy around," he said.
When walking in housing areas on a forward operating base or joint security station during the hours of darkness, Soldiers are advised to walk in well-lit areas, Dickerson continued.
"Anyone in the [containerized housing unit] area at night should turn on their outside porch light," he said. "A little bit of light can shed some attention on someone who is lurking."
"Soldiers are also encouraged to continuously maintain situational awareness as they walk around the FOB and guard against would-be attackers," Dickerson explained, "They must always be prepared to protect themselves."
Education is another method used for the prevention of sexual assault, spearheaded by the newly-formed I. A.M. Strong campaign. The principles are intervene, act and be motivated.
"It is an awareness campaign that focuses on prevention more than anything," said Dickerson. "The overall goal of the program is the elimination of sexual assault."
Through the use of education with the I. A.M. Strong campaign and other preventative measures, sexual assault is a crime that is being fought on all levels to prevent. However, when it cannot be avoided, MND-B Soldiers have advocates who will help them through and assist them for as long as it takes.