Sexual assault: breaking the silence
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

CHIEVRES, Belgium -- "Sexual assault. Sexual Harassment. Not in our Army." You may have heard this slogan these past days and you will hear it again. Every year, in April, civilian and military communities observe Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) across the country.

U.S. Army Garrison Benelux organized a Denim Day on April 26. By wearing denim, people were invited to protest against sexual violence. The event is over, but the fight is not. The program is a top priority for the Army, "in order to maintain the highest levels of unit and organizational readiness."

The Army believes everyone has the power to eradicate sexual assault and other crimes. Not just in April, but every month.

"They've finally seen the second and third order effects of military members being sexually assaulted. We are losing people that we paid a lot of money to train and we aren't keeping good people because they want to leave. Now we talk about it, we train about it, we have more resources. In the US, colleges and universities have a problem with the same things and they are looking to the military - how we build this program - like an example," said Cheryl Hendrix, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the USAG Benelux SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) program.

Sexual assault is a very serious topic, but the way to talk about it can be less serious. With that in mind, the SHARP and ASAP offices decided to mark SAAPM month with a special version of the Game Jeopardy on April 27 at 7p.m. at the Chièvres Air Base Barracks for Single Servicemembers.

Preserve evidence

Consequences of sexual assault can be destructive. The Department of Defense (DoD) safe helpline explains that victims may experience depression, eating disorder, sleep disturbance or suicide attempt.

"Every single case is so different, and the trauma is still part of you. It's a form of PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)," Hendrix explained.

According to the Army, one assault is one too many. Sexual assault prevalence has declined since 2010 although some cases still appear. "Most of the victims are very young," mentioned Hendrix. "Most of the perpetrators are older and mostly make career. In almost every case we have involved alcohol and most of the victims know their assailant."

On, you will find a lot of explanations about reporting and intervention options. For example, "go to a safe location away from the perpetrator" after a sexual assault, "preserve all evidence of the assault, don't bathe, wash your hands or brush your teeth. If you are still where the crime occurred, don't clean or straighten up anything to preserve evidence."

Without fear

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, harassment retaliation and all sorts of unappropriated behaviors, the Army recommends you speak about it. "The quickest way to do it is to call hotline numbers, 0476-76-2264 for Chièvres and Brussels and 0031-65-191-91-19 for Schinnen," indicated Hendrix. Victims can also contact SHARP to have a conversation with a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and a Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Victim Advocate (SAPR VA).

People can be afraid to speak about a traumatic event, but they can ask for confidentiality. "When you call hotlines, there are restricted reports or unrestricted reports. Restricted means people can get help without an investigation, and we tell the garrison commander we have a case, the person is safe and is getting help. And if victims want an unrestricted report, the name will be known and the commander will know," added Hendrix.

The DoD safe helpline is another possibility for everybody to get help anywhere (in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium). It's confidential, anonymous, secure, and available worldwide, 24/7. You can call 877-995-5247 or you can text. You may also contact a consultant through Military OneSource (800-342-9647).

"What did I do wrong?"

Sexual assault is not gender specific, a man can also become a victim. A man's experience can be very different from a woman's. "It's harder for men to come forward, they lost their masculinity. For a lot of people, sexual assault is a female issue, and it's harder for that," mentioned Hendrix.

The Army wants victims to be protected and treated with dignity and respect. Commanders have to make sure that Soldiers are not treated differently after sexual assault.

And the Army asked those who have not been a victim to listen, "to be there," to communicate without judgment and to encourage the survivor to get support.

"The biggest thing anyone can do if somebody says he was sexually assaulted is to support and believe. I have had many cases where people have waited a year to report sexual assault. Survivors of sexual assault are always doing this internal dialog: what did I do wrong?" Hendrix concluded.

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