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Sexual assault, harassment victims empowered

Sexual assault, harassment victims empowered

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, is reminding victims they have a wide range of resources available to help them through difficult times. Victims have the ability to make a restricted (command not notified) or unrestricted report (command notified), but both options include the full complement of support resources. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Sarah Denewellis)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The unfortunate reality of sexual harassment and sexual assault is that despite tenacious prevention efforts, and a DoD zero tolerance policy, incidents sometimes do occur.

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response coordinator at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, is reminding victims they have a voice that is stronger than ever.

Sexual assault is intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, and abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy and other unwanted indecent contact that is aggravated, abusive or wrongful.

Sexual harassment is defined as any form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when either submission of the conduct is expressly or implicitly a term of a person’s job or career, or where submission or rejection to such conduct by a person is either used as a basis for career or employment decisions or for the purpose of interfering with work or otherwise creates an intimating, hostile or offensive work environment.

“The real distinction between sexual harassment and sexual assault is sexual harassment's connection to the victim's employment and/or work performance,” said Cecilia Smith, sexual assault response coordinator with the 50th Space Wing.

Smith said it is important victims know their reporting options and understand the difference between a restricted and unrestricted report.

Restricted reports initiate confidential victim support without triggering command knowledge or law enforcement investigation. This option allows the victim to receive medical care and victim support while giving the victim time and control over the release and management of personal information.

“Really, the whole purpose of restricted reporting is to give the victim control over their case, while also empowering victims to seek relevant information and support to make informed decisions about participating in the criminal process,” said Lt. Col. Royal Davis, staff judge advocate with the 50th SW. In contrast, an unrestricted report initiates an official law enforcement investigation and also formally involves the chain of command.

“It is important to understand that a restricted report may only be made to a SARC, victim advocate, a volunteer victim advocate, or members of the healthcare community,” Davis said. “Unrestricted reports, by contrast, may also be made through the above-listed personnel, or through the member’s chain of command, the Office of Special Investigations, or other law enforcement agency.”
Davis said one thing many people may be unaware of is expansion of victim rights under the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which, for example, eliminates the five-year statute of limitations on sexual assault and sexual assault of a child.

“This law is prospective applying to offenses committed on or after Dec. 26, 2013,” Davis said.

Additional changes under the 2014 NDAA include creating a mandatory minimum of dismissal or dishonorable discharge for the offenses of rape or sexual assault, rape of a child or sexual assault of a child, forcible sodomy, or attempts to commit these offenses. This takes effect and applies only to offenses committed on and after June 24, 2014. Finally, Article 18 was amended to confer jurisdiction over these offenses to only general courts-martial.

“These are substantial changes that are in line with Congress’s intent to protect and empower victims,” Davis said.

Davis said more changes are coming as well.

“The 2016 NDAA will add a new Article 132 which will be effective Jan. 1, 2019 and will address retaliation as an enumerated UCMJ offense,” he said. “The intent of the law was to address retaliation against personnel who reported sexual assault furthering empowering a purported victim’s ability to report.”

Collateral misconduct is another potential barrier to reporting that the law gives commanders wide latitude to address.

“Collateral misconduct by the victim of a sexual assault can present a barrier to reporting because of the victim's fear of punishment,” Davis said. “Some reported sexual assaults involve circumstances where the victim may have engaged in some form of misconduct (e.g., underage drinking or other related alcohol offenses, adultery, fraternization, or other violations of certain regulations or orders).”

“Commanders have broad discretion to either defer action, or take no action, on alleged collateral misconduct by the sexual assault victims,” he continued. “Under the law, commanders and supervisors shall not be penalized for such decisions.”

Smith said she understands reporting takes courage and her office strives to make it as easy as possible, with the rights and concerns of victims being the number one priority.

“I have had victims come in seeking knowledge or information several times before they get up the courage to make a report,” she said. “Our office goal is to provide exemplary support throughout victim reporting, response, victim advocacy, investigations and offender accountability when a sexual assault occurs.”

The SAPR office provides access to a full spectrum of victim support to include victim advocates, sexual assault forensic exam, special victims’ counsel, medical, chaplain, and a DoD safe helpline.

The Special Victims’ Counsel or SVC program is relatively new and of huge importance, according to Davis.

“The role of the SVC is to advocate for victim-client rights with the objective of providing support to victims of sex assault through independent attorney-client privileged representation,” Davis said.

Smith said the SVC was developed to strengthen the support of victims of sexual assault and enhance their rights within the military justice system, while neither causing unreasonable delay nor infringing upon the rights of an accused.

Smith has a message for anyone who has been victimized and is considering coming forward.

“It can be hard to know what to do, how to feel, or what your options are if you are a person that has been affected in some way by a sexual assault,” she said. “Something happened to you that you didn't want to happen-and that's not OK. There is nothing you did or did not do that caused this to happen. Please know that you're not alone.”

To contact the SARC, call 567-SARC (7272).

References: Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 19722014 National Defense Authorization Act

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