By Dena O'DellNovember 21, 2008
Fort Riley, Kan. - Since 2005, the number of reported sexual assault cases has more than tripled on Fort Riley. Sexual assault prevention and response coordinators believe this increase has to do with more victims reporting sexual assaults because they have more options and understand help is available and they are not alone.
The Army's Sexual assault prevention and Response Program - Army Regulation 600-20, Chapter 8 - was established in 2005 to provide response and prevention to sexual assault, said Melody McDowall, sexual assault prevention and response coordinator.
"Victims were coming forward saying the Army didn't help them or their services didn't help them. So there was a task force created by (Donald) Rumsfeld in 2004 to take a look at how the services were handling sexual assault and they created this program," she said.
Prior to the policy's implementation, McDowall said, sexual assault cases in the Army were handled in a variety of ways. The command would either try to fix it and work with the victim without any notification or they would automatically make the victim, if it was a Soldier, cooperate and have evidence collected from their body.
"The victim had no control over their information or how they wanted to decide what would happen with the case," McDowall said. "So this gives victims a choice and it gives them power back."
Now victims of sexual assault can either report the assault as a "restricted" or "un-restricted" report. A restricted report means they can tell a sexual assault response coordinator, a civilian or unit victim advocate, health care provider or a chaplain that they've been a victim of sexual assault and they can get counseling, advocacy, spiritual services and medical care without their chain of command or law enforcement being notified, McDowall said.
In addition to the sexual assault program already in place, the Army took it one step further this past September by launching the "I A.M. Strong," campaign. The campaign is aimed at putting an end to sexual assault Army-wide within the next five years and making the Army's sexual assault prevention program a model for the rest of the nation.
The acronym I A.M. stands for intervene, act and motivate, said Lt. Col. Maria Bentinck, sexual assault program manager.
"The Army had more sexual assault cases than any of the other services combined per capita. We are a band of brothers and sisters. We should not have this repugnant crime in our Army," Bentinck said. "Before, the focus was more on response and support activities and now our focus is on prevention."
Starting in January, Fort Riley will begin hosting national subject matter experts to provide sexual assault awareness and prevention training to Soldiers.
The first program, "Can I Kiss You'" will be presented by Mike Domitrz in January at Barlow Theater. The program is about obtaining consent and combines humor with an underlying serious message. Following the January presentation, speakers will be scheduled quarterly to provide additional programs on sexual assault prevention. Although the presentations are for all Soldiers, the target audience is Soldiers ages 18-24, because that is the age group where sexual assault occurs most frequently.
The third quarter presentation will be entitled, "Sex Signals," which also mixes comedy with a serious message. Additionally, during the month of April - Sexual assault Awareness Month - a sexual assault prevention run/walk and other activities are planned.
"Part of the prevention piece we have been doing for awhile, but this is really going to be focusing in on bystander intervention so that other people will intervene to stop and get involved at the beginning of a potential sexual assault," McDowall said. "It's about having battle buddies, co-workers, brothers and sisters standing up and saying, 'It's not okay to be feeding a girl drinks, what are your intentions''"
In addition to coordinating the new campaign, McDowall serves as an advocate for sexual assault victims; Dana Van Ness, Fort Riley sexual assault trainer, provides unit, pre-deployment, post-deployment, in-processing, bi-annual, annual, emergency response and community sexual assault training; and each battalion has a minimum of two Soldiers appointed on orders by the chain of command to be trained as unit victim advocates, as well as one deployable sexual assault response coordinator per brigade.
For more information on the I A.M. Strong campaign, visit www.preventsexualassault.army.mil.