By Lisa Charles, SHARP Program Manager, U.S. Army-HawaiiApril 3, 2015
"You don't look like you've been sexually assaulted."
"Are you sure he did that to you?"
"Are you saying this, so you can get out of working?"
"You're going to ruin his/her career. Do you really want to go through with this?"
"If you were sexually assaulted, why can't you remember any of the details?"
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- The types of questions, above, among many others, have routinely plagued sexual assault victims after they have found the courage to come forward and confide to someone they trust about the crime committed against them.
The line of questioning, above, however, only serves to marginalize the offense, support the offender and cast judgment or doubt on the victim, even before the facts of the case are established.
These questions are the ammunition for a character assassination against the victim, whether by a supervisor, significant other, friend, leader or peer and are tantamount to re-victimization.
Any line of questioning that casts doubt on the victim prematurely and based on false pretenses has significant adverse affects on the healing process as well as the investigation and adjudication process.
When a victim of sexual assault musters the courage to tell anyone about an intimately painful experience, at the very least, he or she deserves to feel credible.
To that end, Soldiers at all levels must put aside their own biases, even if they think the victim's allegations seem improbable. They must reassure the victims that their claim has merit, and is worth the time and effort to fully investigate to ensure justice and obtain victim services.
For victims, knowing that someone believes them will drive whether they can start the healing process to lead them toward recovery. If someone confides in you, the first order of business should always be to ensure that person's safety, not to question the validity of the allegations.
The next step is to refer the matter to trained professionals who understand the nuances of victimology and physical and psychological trauma. Find the nearest sexual assault response coordinator or victim advocate to start the process of securing assistance for the victim.
Throughout this entire process, the victim must feel believed, and credibility should never come into question by their confidant. The facts, as they unfold through the investigative process, will speak for themselves.
Only the proper authorities can effectively determine the facts of a case and present those facts to the adjudication authority. Aside from that, anyone with knowledge of the victim or the allegations must keep an open mind and put aside their prejudices.
-- "Why should I believe him/her? This person has been in trouble in the past."
It's true that sometimes victims can appear to lack credibility. However, upon stepping back and observing the entire situation from the vantage point of a predator, it may become evident the victim was targeted specifically because they lacked credibility.
A predator's mindset is often, "Who will they believe: me or a young Soldier who has been in trouble time and again?"
To that end, predators tend to target those who they perceive to be vulnerable or lack credibility, while simultaneously maintaining a façade that makes the predator appear to be above reproach, especially to his immediate leaders.
-- "This person looks just fine. There's no way he/she was sexually assaulted."
Contrary to popular belief, there is no "standard" reaction to or appearance resulting from a sexual assault. Victims of sexual assault display a wide spectrum of emotions, from internalizing their pain, smiling and acting as though nothing happened, to a complete shut down and withdrawal from life as they knew it and possibly suicide.
There are rarely defensive wounds or visible injuries to a victim of sexual assault, but that does not mean a sexual assault didn't happen or that it was any less egregious.
In addition, some sexual assault victims behave erratically or engage in self-destructive behavior after a sexual assault, further affecting their credibility, but that also does not mean a sexual assault didn't happen.
Looks can be deceiving, so instead of allowing a victim to suffer in silence because he or she doesn't look like a victim, ensure the victim takes the steps to seek help immediately.
-- "He/She must be making this up."
It is important to note that patently false reports of sexual assault are extremely rare. Less than 1 percent unfounded sexual assault cases are patently false reports.
Cases that are unfounded do not inherently mean the victim is lying. In fact, many unfounded allegations simply do not meet the elements of the offense as defined by law.
This could be because the subject made the contact accidentally or because there was no apparent intent for sexual gratification or to humiliate the victim. Regardless, it does not mean that the victim did not genuinely feel like they were violated, particularly if they are sensitive or feel vulnerable because of past trauma.
And regardless of whether an allegation is founded or unfounded, a victim of sexual assault can continue to receive SHARP services until such time as he or she no longer needs them.
The manner in which a victim of sexual assault is treated early on will drive their healing process. World Health Organization statistics show that victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
One way to combat these numbers is the U.S. Army Hawaii commander's 4S "Take a Stand" campaign, which addresses sexual assault, suicide, safety and substance abuse, and encourages everyone to be proactive and take a stand against these types of incidents.
In addition, Soldiers at all levels can drastically reduce those numbers if they simply set aside their own preconceived notions about sexual assault and ensure victims feels believed and more importantly, facilitate the process of getting help for the victim.
It takes the courage and strength of a warrior to report a sexual assault. It takes a true leader to set aside his or her biases and ensure that victim of sexual assault receives help immediately.
The Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program exists to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assaults before they occur.
To reach the USARHAW SHARP 24-hour hotline where credentialed personnel can provide immediate assistance, call (808) 655-9474 or visit the USARHAW SHARP Resource Center, Bldg. 692, 3585 McCornack Road, Schofield Barracks.
To reach the 24/7 DOD Safe Helpline, call toll free to (877) 995-5247.