FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the country.

The lack of reporting is what led the Department of Defense to launch its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program several years ago and why Fort Belvoir values its unit victim advocates so much today.

A luncheon honored victim advocates who have given so much to those seeking help under the toughest circumstances Tuesday at Woodlawn Chapel.

A unit victim advocate is someone who ensures the safety, dignity and well-being of all members of the armed forces, especially those who have been sexually assaulted, according to Rachel Rice, Belvoir's installation victim advocate.

"I've found that unit victim advocates have an extraordinary passion and commitment," Rice said. "They accompany victims to examinations, court visits and offer non-clinical support that goes above and beyond the call to help. They are truly instrumental and someone victims can count on through the whole process."

There are a little more than 40 unit victim advocates on Belvoir and more are expected next month, once they complete training, Rice said.

Training includes instruction on how to help victims interface with their command and how to handle themselves in the future. Army regulations require two victim advocates per battalion level.

"It takes a special person to do this job, to accept the training and be on call when something bad happens," said Col. John Strycula, Fort Belvoir garrison commander. "Having a support structure is crucial and unit victim advocates establish a trust with people who have had those bonds broken. They are a big help to our units because sexual assault affects not just one individual, but an entire atmosphere."

Helene Kelsey, a unit victim advocate with the Army's Acquisitions Support Center, was recognized during the luncheon as one of two outstanding victim advocates for the past year. After serving as a victim advocate for the past four years, Kelsey has no intentions of stopping in the near future.

"I'm happy to help where I can. It's a real positive contribution," Kelsey said. "If what I do makes a difference in someone's life, then that makes me happy."

A hotline is available for victims at 703-919-0986. For information about Fort Belvoir's Unit Victim Advocate program, call 703-805-2561 or 1832.

Information on services to prevent sexual assaults is available from Information on a national level is available from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center,

Those recognized for their work as unit victim advocates included:
Aca,!Ac Staff Sgt. Yevgeniy Nikitin - Defense Threat Reduction Agency
Aca,!Ac George Smith - U.S. Army Space Program Office
Aca,!Ac Staff Sgt. Michelle Adams - 1st Information Operations
Aca,!Ac Bev Steffen - Product Manager Forward-Looking Infrared
Aca,!Ac Regina Bumper - Army program executive officer for enterprise information systems
Aca,!Ac Staff Sgt. Jerry Holmes - Headquarters and Headquarters Company Special Activities
Aca,!Ac Staff Sgt. Paul Stavar - 212th Military Police Detachment
Aca,!Ac Helene Kelsey - U.S. Army Acquisitions Support Center
Aca,!Ac Staff Sgt. Magnolia McWharter - Echo Company 169th Engineer Battalion
Aca,!Ac Staff Sgt. Darius Mitchell - 911th Engineer Company

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16