By Lance Cpl. Diamond PedenApril 30, 2014
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- In light of the 14th annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler hosted its annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response luncheon Apr. 25 at the Butler Officers' Club on Camp Foster.
The event not only raised awareness of sexual assaults within the military, it also showed the Marine Corps' progress in the development of the SAPR program and how it has helped sexual assault victims.
"The goal of the luncheon was to take a look back at all the changes that we've made over the past few years," said Sunny R. Street, the MCB Camp Butler sexual assault response coordinator, "to assess whether those changes have been effective, and to hear from some of our Marines who have used the program. One of my hopes is that it will generate some conversation among our leaders regarding the way ahead on this issue."
Since starting the program in 2004, the Marine Corps has kept records of sexual assaults that are reported each year, according to Street, a Vanceboro, N.C., native.
"(This year's report) will be out in May, but supplementary information reveals that we have had an 86 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in comparison to the 31 percent in 2012," said Street.
To many, the high percentage may seem like a rise in sexual assaults, according to Street. However, surveys conducted by the Department of the Navy in 2013 show a decrease in prevalence of sexual assaults and an increase in Marines coming forward when they are assaulted.
The surveys came to fruition as part of the SAPR Campaign Plan released in 2012 by the commandant of the Marine Corps, when the goals for reporting and preventing sexual assault in the Marine Corps were established, according to Street. These goals included training, prevention, reporting, victim care, investigations, adjudication and engaged leadership.
"We're beginning to see the results of the campaign plan," said Street. "(The percentages are) an indicator that Marines and sailors have increased confidence, faith and trust in their commands, the program and the first responders."
In conjunction to the plan, Marines receive SAPR training annually, before and after deployments, transitioning in and out of the Marine Corps and during recruit training, according to Street.
"The Marines are learning from the training we give as Uniformed Victim Advocates," said retired Gunnery Sgt. Annie E. Scott, an administrative specialist with Headquarters and Service Battalion, MCB Camp Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. "When a lance corporal or below is sexually assaulted, they may not go directly to a UVA first, but to their NCOs. We want the noncommissioned officers trained to get their junior Marines to a UVA, and to be that first support system for them."
During the event, attendees read anonymous statements from victims of sexual assault and discussed how the SAPR program aided them.
"If anyone who has gone through something and isn't sure whether or not they can trust the program or talk about what's happened to them, I'd say there is no need to hesitate," said Lance Cpl. Brittany D. Tobin, a motor vehicle operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. "They really are here to help you. You're not alone. If you're not safe wherever you are, they will put you somewhere safe. You don't have to live in circumstances in which you find yourself."
Marines of all ranks were represented at the luncheon, highlighting the importance of the program and the support it receives at all levels of the organization.
"It was really great to see people from the highest levels of command and even down to junior Marines representing their support for the program," said Tobin, a Grand Junction, Colo., native. "I really think this program is doing a great thing and that I hope to see more improvements within units and all the branches on this issue."
As the program is based on confidentiality, the SAPR staff knows that many people are unaware of the successes of the program, and Marines are encouraged that if they believe they need it, to receive the help that is being offered, according to Scott, a Vallejo, Calif., native.
"As a UVA, it was touching to have a victim come and speak to the leadership, the commanding generals and sergeant majors," said Scott. "It makes me feel that I am doing something bigger than myself and bigger than my command when I help those that need that support."