By David VergunSeptember 26, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 26, 2013) -- A first-of-its-kind Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Resource Center opened just two months ago at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Already, about 40 victims have visited the center, said Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, director of the center's Sexual Assault Response Team. He added that although the center is still an Army pilot project, it is already fully functioning as a sanctuary for victims, where they can get a full range of assistance from trained, caring professionals.
Representatives from the Criminal Investigation Command, Madigan Army Medical Center, and the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM, are all available at the center, as are the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, victim advocates.
This "community of providers" is one of the key features of the center, he explained. Victims can go to a one-stop, consolidated facility.
Stelle said he borrowed the idea from the best practices approach to business, which is a model that relies on a structure to take multiple agencies -- four in this case -- and get them to function as one efficient and effective organization.
Previously, he explained, victims would need to visit each of the four agencies in separate locations and in the process they would get shuttled around from one building to another, adding to their already high levels of "stress and turmoil."
"Because of the hassles and runarounds, many victims would just say 'forget it, it's already embarrassing and humiliating. This is too much,' and they would give up," he said.
HOW IT WORKS
Typically, victims of sexual assault or harassment would first visit their unit victim advocate representative, Stelle said. A representative is typically a Soldier from the company level on up. Although their duty is collateral, all such advocates have received specialized training and are competent and professional.
Once they've seen their unit advocate, they'll typically be brought to the center, he said, noting that the process doesn't preclude victims from walking into the center on their own.
Once the victim enters the center, he or she is received by a trained victim advocate who will inform them how best to proceed.
The process at the center differs from how things are normally done. At the center, because everything is under one roof, victims can easily move from one care provider to the next without difficulty. If those functions were in separate buildings, in different areas of an installation, then victims might have to make multiple appointments and travel to different locations. The efficiency at the center makes for a more comfortable process for the victims, Stelle said.
There is one important distinction at the center involving the pathway victims choose, he continued. A Soldier who is a victim of sexual assault has an option to make a "restricted" or "unrestricted" report.
Unrestricted reporting involves law enforcement, medical care, the legal community and counseling; it is the traditional form of reporting.
Restricted reporting means no investigation and involves only counseling and medical attention, he explained. About one in four victims choose this option. Nevertheless, the care they receive is still the same quality received with the unrestricted option.
The Army started offering the restricted option for victims around eight years ago, he said. That's also around the same time that Soldiers in CID and JAG, Army-wide, started receiving formal training in sexual assault cases.
Stelle, who has a military prosecution background and has served in the Army for about 20 years, called the training "revolutionary."
Insights into the psychology, trauma and all the dynamics of what a sexual assault victim goes through were explained in detail, he said.
For example, he said, a victim's story may change several times or be confused and chaotic because he or she may have been drinking or because of the intense trauma. Traditionally, that would have resulted in law enforcement or medical becoming suspicious of the victim's version of events.
Now, investigators and medical personnel are sensitive, empathic and open-minded and they are trained not to jump to conclusions, he said. The change in attitude from then to now "is like night and day," he said.
Stelle termed their training "fantastic" and added that law enforcement and medical staff in the Army are probably some of the best trained in the country.
In the future, Stelle said center leadership would like to interface with other agencies in the Army, like some of the ready and resilience initiatives, to explore ways some of their programs could be used in prevention and treatment, including long-term.
"But we'll always be victim-focused, victim-centered," he said.
As time passes, the center will amass more and more data and have a better knowledge base, Stelle said.
"Through trend analysis, we'll be able to spot more quickly where preventative type programs might be needed at particular units," he explained. "We'll also see patterns in the types of assault cases and serve as eyes and ears for the commanders."
Within the center itself, personnel from the four agencies meet regularly to discuss trends and cases and compare notes on how their services can be delivered even more effectively. There's a "synergy" that develops from that type of teamwork, Stelle said.
Stelle said he hopes the center will serve as a model for the Army and the rest of the Department of Defense. He added that he and his team have a lot of passion invested in the effort and want to see it succeed and help victims get the care and justice they deserve.