By Staff Sgt. Kelly ChodkowskiApril 18, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Military and civilian attorneys, law enforcement representatives, social workers, child protective services employees, nurses, victim advocates and command team members came together to foster good working relationships during the 2nd Annual Sexual Assault Response Team Seminar last week at Fort Drum.
The two-day seminar kicked off April 9 at the Commons with remarks from Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commanding general for support.
The focus of this year's SARTS was domestic violence.
"We have a serious problem in our Army, and it's up to us to fix it," Piatt said.
Sexual assault is usually categorized as a "blue on blue" offense, meaning Soldier on Soldier.
Current issues with sexual assault aren't new information, but they are being addressed more aggressively through the Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Pre- vention program. The SHARP program looks to focus on offender behavior and education as opposed to victim blaming.
Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Anne Ges-sner, a victim advocate with the 10th Mountain Division SHARP team, described the mentality behind victim blaming.
"Offenders and society as a whole sometimes state things like, 'she was asking for it,' a statement which shifts blame for the attack onto the victims or as I to refer to them, survivors," Gessner said.
"Someone who has taken all the proper precautions and is sexually assaulted usually feels ashamed and confused. They even might feel like they should have done more to prevent the attack," she said.
Although the SHARP program is still in its infancy, Gessner is a seasoned pro. She has been a victim advocate under the Army's various programs since 2004.
Bottom line, she said, "It is never the survivor's fault for what has happened to (him or her). The offender made the conscious decision to violate another person."
Capt. Jeff Gilberg, special victim prosecutor for the Northeast region, showed a video in which a young woman is at a bar smiling and having fun. A man notices her and says to a friend, "Would you look at her? She's asking for it!" The video cuts away to an earlier time when the young woman is shopping. She asks the sales woman which skirt she should choose in order to "… encourage a guy to have sex with me against my will."
The video ends with an "as if" statement from the woman. This public service announcement illustrates the common misconception that a survivor is to blame because of how he or she dressed or behaved.
In regard to assaults with military ties, "… about 90 percent of the offenders are trained killers," said Bridget Ryan, an expert with the Trial Counsel Assistance Program of the Office of Judge Advocate General, Department of the Army. Ryan has more than 20 years of experience prosecuting domestic violence and sexual assault cases. She now advises Army prosecutors during similar cases.
Ryan spoke about common misconceptions and roadblocks to domestic violence cases.
All cases of domestic violence on Fort Drum are directed to the Family Advocacy Program, despite the surge in SHARP trained personnel in uniform.
"If a survivor of domestic violence comes into my office, I'm going to do everything I can to help them, through the 'warm handoff' to FAP and beyond," said Maj. Charity O'Dell, SHARP Program manager for Fort Drum.
A warm handoff is akin to a handshake: you can't have one if you are in two different places.
"We would accompany the survivor to FAP and make sure they felt comfortable before leaving them," O'Dell added. "It's important to remember that this individual has been through a traumatic event, and our focus is to help (him or her) through it."
In addition to blocks of instruction and question sessions with each functional area's subject-matter experts, attendees participated in roundtable discussions based on a fictional case.
Gilberg developed the fact pattern by looking at real cases and pulling common denominators to ensure current issues were addressed and understood by all. Factors such as alcohol usage, financial dependency and child involvement are present in many cases; by using these types of details, the training can be more effective, Gilberg explained.
Throughout the seminar, the SMEs referred to the fictional case file to highlight their organizations role during reporting, investigation, litigation and beyond. After each speaker was a working party discussion, led by the SME for that particular area. This format allowed for group dialogue and feedback, making it easier for all to understand each facet of the case.
The final portion of the event took participants through a fictitious court-martial for the case. Under supervision from Gilberg, each table came up with questions for the victim regarding certain aspects of the case. This exercise was important because "many of you have never witnessed a court-martial, and neither have your victims," Gilberg said.
The seminar was one of the cornerstone events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There also have been a self-defense class and informational displays at the Exchange. The display tables will return to the PX on Friday and Wednesday. Denim Day also will be observed Wednesday.
Denim Day came about in Italy after a guilty verdict on a rape case was overturned because the judge deemed the female victim's jeans to be too tight for the offender to have removed them. The judge stated the victim must have helped the attacker, and therefore consented to the assault.
Women of the Italian Parliament were infuriated and began wearing jeans to work to protest the ruling. Women of the California Senate and Assembly heard about the outrage and joined the movement. Thus, Denim Day was born.
The final major event for SAAM is the "Walk a Mile in Their Shoes" event April 25. The walk is based on "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" events held worldwide where men show support for victims of sexual assault by walking a mile in high heels. Fort Drum is taking the gender angle out, because sexual assault is not a "female" problem, but an Army problem. The walk will start at 6:50 a.m. at the North Riva Ridge Chapel and end at the AmeriCU parking lot. Refreshments will be served at the end of the route.
For more information, contact the 10th Mountain Division (LI) SHARP office at 774-2728.