By Senior Airman Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Being a victim of sexual assault carries different emotions for different people. Some become angry and want revenge. Some people shut down emotionally, wanting to forget about it as quickly as possible, and others just want to talk about it to ease their mind.
No matter how a person handles their grief, there are avenues of support for all. Knowing these avenues and understanding that each one has different obligations can better determine where a person should go for help.
Supervisors, first sergeants and anyone in your direct chain of command are all appropriate channels to use when coming forward with a sexual assault matter. However, be mindful that once any of these individuals are notified of a sexual assault, they are mandated to report it to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and the Office of Special Investigations.
“If an Airman comes to me and states that they’ve been sexually assaulted, I must report that,” said Master Sgt. Eric Pelican, 19th Comptroller Squadron first sergeant. “Even if he or she does not want an investigation to take place, once I know, I have to go to the SARC and OSI.”
Talking to any of these people will lead to help and support for a victim, so don’t be afraid to come forward.
“No one can help you if your issues remain a secret,” said Pelican. “The sooner you address the issue, the less impactful that traumatic event will be on your life. Our goal is to make sure each military member is healthy in every aspect of their life.”
Be mindful that a sexual assault report can be restricted or unrestricted. A restricted report does not trigger an investigation. The person’s command is notified that “an alleged sexual assault” occurred, but is not given the victim’s name or other personally identifying information.
Restricted reporting allows sexual assault victims to confidentially disclose the assault to specified individuals (SARC, SAPR Victim’s Advocate or health care personnel) and receive health care treatment and the assignment of a SARC and SAPR VA.
An unrestricted report triggers an investigation, command notification, and allows a person who has been sexually assaulted to access medical treatment and counseling.
There are sexual assault victims who prefer to leave what happened in the past but still want someone to talk to. There are groups available to do just that.
Chaplains, the SARC, victim’s advocates, and Military One Source are all people who have an obligation to confidentiality. So if getting the issue off your chest is all you want to do, these resources are available. Mental health is another office that is not obligated to report a sexual assault.
“An Airman may come at any time and speak with a chaplain,” said Capt. Garrell Calton, a 19th Airlift Wing chaplain. “That conversation is 100 percent privileged communication. An individual who has been sexually assaulted has 100 percent confidentiality when speaking with a chaplain. The chaplain does not and cannot give this information away to anyone including the commander and/or first shirt.”
But also be mindful that while these avenues for help are not mandated to report anything spoken in a confidential atmosphere, if there is a confession of harming one’s self or another person, they become obligated to take action and inform the proper authorities.
Linda Benjamin, sexual assault victim’s advocate, said, “When in doubt call me. That way you will keep your options of restricted or unrestricted reporting. No avenue is better than the other; there are just different outcomes, and I can help you decided which one is best for your situation.”
Not dealing with the grief, shame, embarrassment and rage of being a victim of sexual assault can cause more than emotional harm. Regardless if you want to pursue a case or verbally release the pain, confronting the issue and talking about it gives other people an opportunity to help you and get you the support you need.
Pelican also urges Airmen to speak out and ask for help because doing that begins a journey of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual healing.
“Sexual assault affects you in all the domains of the Comprehensive Airman Fitness categories, which in turn affects your readiness,” said Pelican. “There are many avenues to get you the help you desire.”
Help is available. You can reach the SARC or a victim’s advocate at (501) 987-7272. A chaplain can be reached during the normal duty day and after hours by the command post at (501) 987-1900, and remember your chain of command is always available as well.