FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - Friday marks the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year's theme, "Hurts One, Affects All: Preventing Sexual Assault is Everyone's Duty," highlights the fact that the scope and impact of a sexual assault extends far beyond the primary victim and can negatively affect spouses, family members, friends and co-workers.

When a sexual assault occurs in the military, it can harm the mission readiness of a command and create a negative and challenging command climate.

It is imperative that every service member not only defend our country, but also protect their peers from a potential sexual assault. We have the power to end sexual violence by taking care of each other and treating everyone with dignity and respect.

Fort Meade's three sexual assault response coordinators supervise the installation's victim advocates who provide direct assistance and confidential support to sexual assault victims 24 hours a day.

Victim advocates listen to victims' needs and then connect them to appropriate resources, including medical care and mental health care, legal advice and spiritual support. Advocates work with victims to help them make informed choices and then support them every step of the way.

SARCs also provide sexual assault prevention and education training for service members and ensure the accurate and timely collection of data about sexual assaults.

The SARC position was created by the Department of Defense in 2005 to help streamline, standardize and implement the DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program for each of the military services.

Shana Young, the Army SARC for the installation, has served here since last August. Young has worked in the social service field for more than 10 years, serving with the Department of Family and Children Services in Augusta, Ga., and the Foster Care, Child Protective Services and Career Counseling Services in Fayetteville, N.C.

Dr. Janie Allen, Fort Meade's Air Force SARC, has worked at Fort Meade since August. She previously served as a Marine Corps captain.

Five years ago, Allen began the first of three deployments to the Central Command Area of Responsibility in Iraq from 2005 to 2006; in Kyrgyzstan in 2009; and in Afghanistan last year. After serving on active duty in the Marines for 12 years, Allen earned a doctorate in clinical psychology.

Elizabeth Russo, Fort Meade's Navy SARC, was one of the first sexual assault response coordinators to be hired for the Navy in 2006. She serves Sailors on the installation, as well as Sailors in Annapolis, Baltimore and surrounding communities.

Russo has worked in the field of sexual assault prevention and response in the military and the civilian sectors for more than a decade. Prior to working for the Navy, Russo was the client services coordinator at a rape crisis center in Portsmouth, N.H., for several years.

Russo also worked with victims of child abuse as the program coordinator/forensic interviewer at the Child Advocacy Center of Rockingham County, N.H.

In the military, the affect of sexual assault is both immediate and long-lasting for victims and their command. Eighty-five percent of victims of sexual assault know their perpetrator. Service members who are victims of sexual assault often face difficulties because they may be required to work with their assailant.

The military mission can also be compromised because victims must focus their attention on medical and legal issues to the detriment of the command's mission readiness. Also, service members who are perpetrators may be put on legal hold, which can impact their ability to deploy.

Elizabeth Russo is the Navy sexual assault response coordinator for Fort Meade.

For more information about the SAPR programs, this month's activities or to reach a victim advocate, contact the following offices:

* Air Force:
24-hour victim advocate: 240-752-2773
SAPR office: 301-677-0821

* Army:
24-hour victim advocate: 443-845-0876
SAPR office: 301-677-5590

* Navy:
24-hour victim advocate: 301-419-1936
SAPR office: 301-677-9014