We've Come a Long Way
By Laura Clagg, 366 FW SARC / Published March 23, 2015
Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho --
The Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program isn't the same program it was 10 years ago. Looking back on the past decade, there have been numerous changes for the betterment of our Airmen. These changes include reporting options, special legal representation, and enhanced training for victim advocates.
While the standard military briefings cover the two types of sexual assault reports -- restricted or unrestricted -- civilians don't always have the same options. Restricted reports stay inside the SAPR program and allow the victim to receive help while maintaining strict confidentiality. However, if the victim chooses an unrestricted report, the full force of our investigative and legal processes come into play to bring assailants to justice. Outside military gates, if a civilian sexual assault victim wishes to keep their report confidential it becomes complicated due to state and local laws. For our military, the choice is fully at the discretion of the victim.
In the past year at Mountain Home Air Force Base, we have had several individuals who chose to change their report status to allow an investigation to begin. Some of the emerging indicators that point to this change in reporting status are due to a greater confidence in the SAPR program; both Air Force-wide and locally. This confidence in the Air Force program has grown due to a number of changes in victim and client-based services offered through the SAPR office.
Military sexual assault victims and certain categories of dependents have the right to representation by a Special Victim's Counsel attorney before and during Article 32 hearings and courts martial, which helps demystify the legal process and put Airmen at ease. The attorney for the victim explains the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, court proceedings and advocates on behalf of the victim, particularly during motion hearings. The rapid growth and effective use of SVCs has made this program an effective Air Force practice which the DoD has instituted across the services. The practice of assigning attorneys to represent victims' interests does not currently exist in any state court system. But at MHAFB, the SVC program is making a significant impact for our Airmen and their willingness to testify.
Additionally, changes to the SAPR Victim's Advocate program help instill a sense of trust and squarely places client care as a priority. All MHAFB Volunteer Victim Advocates receive national certification through the DoD sexual assault advocate certification program prior to working with a client.
The certification process requires 40 hours of specialized training, a thorough background check and multiple interviews. VVAs may accompany a client from interview process through the entire court proceedings. They often help victims find the support and services needed to begin the healing process. MHAFB provides both male and female advocates -- in the ranks of airman first class through captain -- to better relate to the base population. They're well-trained and have a deep respect for victim advocacy.
Perhaps the most frequently asked question of the SAPR program is, "What's happening here at my base?" In fiscal year 2014 there was an increase of over 200 percent in sexual assault reports from FY 2013. In 2014, there were 51 total reports, 42 of them unrestricted. Not all reported assaults occurred at Mountain Home, and many were from previous assignments. Also this past year, the SAPR program began discussing male sexual assault during training environments. A result of those discussions has been male victims coming forward to tell their stories, leading to MHAFB having the highest rate of male reports in Air Combat Command.
The SAPR program will continue to change, but its focus will remain on the well-being of Mountain Home airmen. Sexual assault is a crime that impacts all Airmen, not just a few.
If interested in joining our team as a VVA or helping with prevention and outreach activities during April's Sexual Assault Awareness Prevention month contact us at 208- 828-6622 or 7272.