By Sheryl Nix, Fort Wainwright PAOApril 22, 2010
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - April is Sexual Assault Awareness month throughout the nation and with more than 3,200 sexual assault reports involving service members filed in fiscal year 2009, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year, the Department of Defense continues to take the issue seriously.
"One sexual assault is too many. As such, the best way to combat sexual assault is to prevent it," said Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Sexual assault is by no means a problem limited to the confines of the DoD, but it is an issue that hits close to home for those who live and work on Fort Wainwright.
Statistics from the Anchorage-based advocacy group, Standing Together Against Rape, indicate that Alaska leads the nation in rape with rates 2.6 times the national average and Fairbanks leads the state with a rape rate that is 4.7 times the national average.
Numbers like these motivate Fort Wainwright's Family Advocacy Program staff, working on the front lines of the battle against sexual assault, to do whatever they can to not only offer assistance in the event of sexual assault, but to offer prevention information and outreach to help protect Soldiers and family members from ever becoming victims.
"It's an issue and concern that our Soldiers need to be aware of," said Heather Llewellyn, Fort Wainwright's sexual assault response coordinator. She said that sexual assault is something all Soldiers and family members need to think about; not just women.
"We have had quite a few victims who are Soldiers - both male and female," she said. "This is not just an issue that is specifically targeted at females only. It crosses genders. It crosses military-civilian lines. It crosses every line and impacts across the board."
There are new predatory techniques and products on the market all the time, Llewellyn said, including a natural product mimicking the effects of common "date rape drugs," without leaving any signs or registering in drug screenings. But, there are practical steps that people can take to help protect themselves when they go to a bar, restaurant, party or other venue, said Betty McCain, Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program manager.
Never leave a drink unattended. If you do leave a drink unattended, do not drink from it; get a new one, she said. Also, take a partner or buddy with you to a bar or party. Similar to the concept of a designated driver, McCain said that Soldiers should go to parties or bars with people they trust, who are committed to keeping them safe.
Partnering with Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers and the "I. A.M. Strong" campaign, FAP staff hosted a Sexual Assault Awareness month event at the Warrior Zone Saturday, offering a free concert with the band "Cool Change," free food, giveaways and sexual assault awareness information.
"We are committed to prevention," McCain said. "We want to let people know that there are ways to prevent sexual assault."
The BOSS "I am Strong" campaign "is the Army's campaign to combat sexual assault by engaging all Soldiers in preventing sexual assaults before they occur," according to www.preventsexualassault.army.mil. By tapping into the "team" concept and encouraging Soldiers to intervene, act and motivate in regard to sexual harassment and assault, the Army hopes to stem the tide of sexual assaults and encourage Soldiers to stand up for each other.
"It's a good program," said Spc. Elizabeth Riehm, Fort Wainwright's BOSS president. "A lot of Soldiers are aware of it and the (resources) it offers."
If an active-duty Soldier is the victim of sexual assault, he or she has an option to file a restricted report, which according to Llewellyn, allows victims to get medical, counseling and advocacy services without a police or command investigation. However, filing a restricted report will not provide protection from the attacker, she said. Who a victim notifies determines whether a report can remain restricted.
"For a restricted report, they can only notify the SARC, the victim advocate, the chaplain or a healthcare provider," Llewellyn said. "A restricted report means you really can't talk to anyone except those four groups of people. If they notify anyone else, including their battle buddy, or a spouse who happens to be in the military, it becomes an unrestricted report."
Regardless of whether a victim files a restricted or unrestricted report, which involves an investigation into the crime and protection from the attacker, McCain and Llewellyn want Soldiers and family members to know that there is help for them through the FAP.
Their work fighting against sexual assault will not end when Sexual Assault Awareness month does. The FAP staff is planning a conference May 10 through 13 at the Birch Hill Lodge to address issues like sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. The conference will also address the Exceptional Family Member Program and is open to local social service providers and agencies, commanders, community members, Soldiers and anyone who wants to attend.
"Our goal is to educate people about sexual assault, child abuse and neglect and domestic violence," McCain said. "But also to let people in the community know what we have to offer here on the installation and to let Soldiers and commanders know what is available in the community as well."
For more information about the conference, call 353-7317. Fort Wainwright's 24-hour Sexual Assault Response Line is 353-7272.