FORT LEE, Va. — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and as part of the effort to raise awareness and promote the prevention of sexual violence, a group of Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers participated in a Sexual Assault Awareness Conference April 9 at the Army Logistics University at Fort Lee. The Virginia Guard troops joined more than 100 other Soldiers, Airmen and civilians for the full day summit which featured guest speakers from a number of organizations.
Among the goals of the conference were to increase Soldier awareness of prevention measures and to give Soldiers and leaders a different view of sexual assault through the words of victims, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Henry Motley, the Virginia National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator.
“Another goal was to build a stronger relationship with the active duty SARC and build a partnership of training, victims’ advocacy and better transfer of a case of a victim of sexual assault from an active duty installation or guard unit,” he said.
A number of speakers were on hand to share their insights and experience at the conference. One was Jessica Hinves, an Air Force veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of a 2009 rape that occurred while she was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Hinves was recently featured in “The Invisible War,” a documentary which examines sexual assault in the U.S. military. Cynthia Hamala, a licensed professional counselor, spoke to the attendees about the effects of drugs or alcohol in most sexual assaults. Marine Maj. Matthew Youngblood, a victim assistance advisor for the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, gave an overview of the online resources and programs available. Robert Franklin, sexual and domestic violence outreach coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health, offered his expertise in the prevention of sexual and domestic violence. Montana Alexander, a special agent with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, spoke about the law enforcement side of sexual assaults and how cases are handled.
Hearing from victims, advocates and law enforcement personnel is important for the SARCs and representatives of the Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program because sexual assault awareness can’t be taught via Power Point, according to Motley. Rather it’s important to hear first-hand accounts and to see the victims and consequences of sexual assault rather than just the statistics.
“A lot of junior enlisted Soldiers don’t realize that what they do is hurtful,” said Spc. Shelby Rhodes, a SARC assistant with 91st Troop Command. “We don’t always pay attention but we need to pay attention to the smallest details. We need to look out for our fellow battle buddies.”
“I feel like it’s something I’ve always had to deal with,” said Staff Sgt. JoAnn S. Lindquist-Rucker of the United States Property and Fiscal Office at Fort Pickett. “Now I want to help others and teach them how to stand up for themselves.”
“We always joke that my husband is my enforcer,” said Lindquist-Rucker. “But not all women have a husband to look out for them. So we all have to look out for each other.”
The Department of the Army’s SAAM observance is in its eighth year and continues to convey the Army’s commitment to achieve cultural change by eradicating sexual assault and sexual harassment through its prevention, investigation, prosecution and survivor support/protection efforts.
SAAM provides commands and installations an annual opportunity to highlight Department of Defense and service policies addressing sexual assault prevention and response. DOD policies address sexual assault prevention and seek to establish a climate of confidence in which education and training create an environment in which sexual assault and the attitudes that promote it are not tolerated; victims of sexual assault receive the care and support that they need; and offenders are held accountable for their actions.
The Army’s 2012 SAAM theme is “Achieving Cultural Change through Dignity and Respect.” This is designed to strengthen leadership’s commitment at all levels and reinforce the importance of respect and dignity.
If you or someone you know is in the National Guard and has been sexually assaulted on or off duty or on or off base, please call the Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247 or the Virginia National Guard SARC at 434-294-4669.