SAPR thrives, continues to provide victims increasing support
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Briefs. Visuals. Research. Presentations. These are some of the avenues the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program utilizes to promote sexual assault awareness in an effort to eliminate this crime from military ranks.
On Aug. 14, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a memorandum for military leadership stating specific dates and timeframes on when the new SAPR initiatives released in May 2013 should be accomplished.
The first initiative is "Improving Victim Legal Support," which the Air Force will implement through the Special Victims' Counsel.
"The Air Force actually leads the way in improving victim legal support," said 1st Lt. Diana Wong, 36th Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. "Through the SVC, the victims get an attorney assigned to them to take care of their legal affairs. SVCs can help victims through the legal process even if they opened a restricted report. The report is fully confidential."
There are currently two SVCs for the Pacific Air Forces located at Yokota and Kadena Air Bases in Japan. These SVCs handle all sexual assault cases within the region.
"What we've been seeing through Air Force statistics is that victims are realizing that more legal help is available to them through this option," Wong said. "Even though they initially opened a restricted report, they can get legal advice while getting to the comfort level they need to make their reports unrestricted if they choose to do so."
Wong said the availability of legal advice with restricted reports gives the victim some time to recover from trauma before entering the long investigation and trial process.
"Some victims don't want to open an investigation; they just want to be taken care of through medical care or counseling," she said. "People deal with trauma differently, and this allows them to work through the process without being overwhelmed by the investigation and knowing that their chain of command or other people are aware of the assault."
Another initiative the Air Force is currently working to develop is "Enhancing Protections" for the victim. Though the expedited transfer process is already in place for victims to go back to their home of record or a place where they have a support system, the Air Force is now providing the victim an option to stay in their current duty station and administratively reassign the accused to another location instead.
"If they're comfortable in their current home station, they should have an option to stay without having to deal with the presence of the perpetrator," Wong said. "This policy will empower them with another choice."
Wong said it's a common misconception that there are false reports, and though people may perceive this policy as a way to go to another base or send someone away, this is rarely ever the case.
"It's a long process that can really wear down on the person," she said. "The legal process is very arduous and extensive. Even the sexual assault forensic examination kit process alone -- where we collect the forensic evidence off the person -- takes up to 12 hours, and that's after they have already been violated."
As the program continues to educate Airmen and support victims, military leaders have also been fervently tracking its progress.
Wong said in the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of restricted reports, which shows more and more Airmen understand how the SAPR program works.
"This is actually a good thing," Wong said. "A restricted report means the victim is educated on the options available to them. They know that there are only certain people who they can open a restricted report with, such as the SARC, the chaplain and health care professionals."
Through education and implementation of new policies, the SAPR program continues to educate Airmen and train them to become intervening bystanders and advocates for their wingmen who fall victim to sexual assault.
"People don't want to think of themselves as being the victim, but you never know when someone's going to confide in you and say that they've been sexually assaulted," Wong said. "You want to make sure that you know how to handle the situation because they came to you for a reason -- to get help."
Wong stressed that the SAPR house is always open to provide help and, as the SARC, her main priority is the well-being of those who come to her door.
"We're a victim-centered program," she said. "The focus is different from what other agencies may focus on during a sexual assault case. My full attention is on the victim and getting the assistance they need. We try our best to empower them. We present them all of their options, and they get to choose which course or which path is best for them."
To contact the SARC or for more information on the SAPR program, call 366-7272, or visit the Andersen AFB SAPR house at 1564 Marianas Blvd.