This Month:

Breaking The Silence On Sexual Assault

When asked why she became a victim’s advocate, her answer was short but meaningful.

“I was sexually assaulted,” she replied, frankly.

To tell this to a single person was one thing, but to make it public knowledge was different. Part of her wanted to keep it private, but if being more open encouraged others to come forward, she knew it was worth it. She had overcome the pain of the event years ago and was motivated to put herself in a position to help others similarly affected.

In the Navy, the sexual assault prevention and response program (SAPR).

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focuses on prevention of sexual assault and care for its victims. This mission doesn’t belong to a single command; it’s a priority of the Navy as a whole.

Unifying with these goals on USS Nimitz (CVN 68) is the job of the ship’s SAPR advocates. The entire team is dedicated to the mission, but one Sailor stands out among the rest. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) 2nd Class Janet Dang now stands ready to help her fellow Sailors in their time of need after overcoming her own personal experience with sexual assault.

“I became a SAPR advocate to prove that I am a survivor,” said Dang. “Being able to assist others and allow them to reach out is much better than bottling it up. Most Sailors have issues reaching out. SAPR allows Sailors to come forward and seek help and guidance for whatever the Sailor might need.”

Many Sailors struggle with reporting sexual assault. For those who fear ridicule or shame, Dang hopes that she and her fellow SAPR advocates are able to provide the support those victims need.

Others may fear blame or repercussions from their chain of command. In order to encourage victims to come forward and prevent future attacks, the command offers amnesty to victims who may have found themselves in difficult situations.

“Come forward,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 1st Class Miguel Chicocorrea, Nimitz’ lead SAPR Advocate. “The chain of command does not hold you liable for collateral misconduct. If you were drunk when you were sexually assaulted, you can still come forward. They’re not trying to get you in trouble for underage drinking. They just want to hold the offender accountable.”

In addition to offering support for victims, the SAPR team also helps guide them through the choices available for reporting assault, restricted and unrestricted. Both reporting processes provide medical treatment and counseling, however, unrestricted reporting triggers an investigation, potentially leading to prosecution of the perpetrator.

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“It’s entirely up to the person,” said Dang. “If they go restricted then they’re just seeking medical help and an advocate. When they go unrestricted, they get all of the benefits including a Navy Criminal Investigative Service investigation and the benefit of being expedited out.”

Expedited transfers allow victims the option of transferring from their command if they do not feel safe. In addition, Sailors now have ways to go after their attacker other than through command punishment.

“The victim now has the option of either going through the Navy or through civilian courts for prosecution of their offender,” said Chicocorrea. “It’s really up to the Sailor on what he or she wants to do. “

Chicocorrea wants Sailors to know they are not limited to their departmental SAPR representative.

“Sailors can go to any SAPR victim advocate they know or feel comfortable with,” said Chicocorrea. “They can go directly to any advocate and say they would like to make a report. It does not have to be part of their department.”

The purpose of all of this is to make SAPR the best possible tool to fight sexual assault. It’s a tool used to ensure Sailors are safe and taken care of in any situation.

“The Department of the Navy (DON) is deeply committed to achieving a culture of gender respect – where sexual assault is never tolerated and ultimately eliminated; where all victims receive effective support and protection; and where offenders are held appropriately accountable,” wrote Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, in a memorandum to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. “I, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps work collaboratively towards these high-priority goals. The DON remains the only military department with a dedicated SAPR entity that reports directly to the secretary.”

SAPR members can’t be everywhere, especially off duty, so they train everyone to recognize a colleague at risk and to intervene with one of four methods: diversion, separation, group approaches and calling for help.

Using diversion, Sailors can discreetly pull their shipmates out of situations that may be becoming risky and help their shipmates get away from a potential perpetrator.

Separation works well when both parties are known. By simply being honest and expressing their concerns, Sailors can defuse the situation tactfully, stopping an assault before it can happen.

For those who may be hesitant to speak up or step in on an individual level, the group approach encourages Sailors to work together as a group of peers, stepping in as a group and usually results in a positive response to a worsening situation.

Finally, if the situation is getting out of hand, calling for help is a great idea. If a Sailor feels he or she can’t stop the assault, the management of the facility or police should be contacted and the situation watched until help arrives.

Dang knows that her role as a victim advocate is important, both to herself, and to the shipmates she has helped. She knows that sexual assault happens more often than we may want to acknowledge. And, she knows that every victim deserves help and support.

Not every Sailor is a victim’s advocate. But thanks to the SAPR victim advocates and the training they provide, every Sailor does have the knowledge to recognize a threat and the power to intervene.

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Story by MC2 Ian Zagrocki

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