[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                        May 22, 2009
Training

SAPR training attracts 
nationwide participation

By Master Sgt. Christina Steiner, The Real McCoy Contributor

The third annual Joint Services Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program training brought more than 125 participants nationwide to Fort McCoy earlier this month for an engaging five days of certification and recertification as unit or installation victim advocates (UVA/IVA). The workshop took place at the Wisconsin Military Academy.

Photo: Students participate in interactive practical exercises during the third annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response certification workshop held at Fort McCoy. (Photo by Master Sgt. Christina Steiner)
Students participate in interactive practical exercises during the third annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response certification workshop held at Fort McCoy. (Photo by Master Sgt. Christina Steiner)

Subject-matter experts in psychology, criminology, counseling and advocacy spoke at length to UVA trainees and those receiving annual recertification. Instruction was interactive, including small-group break-out sessions, partner and group exercises, and film documentaries.

Some of the latest SAPR research shows that "one in four women and one in six men have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime," said Lt. Col. Cynthia Rasmussen, psychiatric nurse specializing in combat stress and SAPR actions for the 88th Regional Support Command at Fort Snelling, Minn. Rasmussen helped found the Army’s SAPR program in 2004 and wrote some of the Department of Defense Issuances (DODIs) on the topic.

"There are things that may happen in this room this week that may trigger memories," Rasmussen said. "We have confidentiality and want you to feel safe. Rank has no concerns here. We’re all here to learn."

Many myths and stereotypes surrounding sexual assault still exist today, despite research to the contrary. One myth is: if a victim is being sexually assaulted, why doesn’t she or he scream and fight back?

Other myths continue to blame the victim by suggesting that clothing or certain behaviors prior to an assault place the victim at fault.

"More than 50 percent of victims believe their lives are in danger during the assault and they freeze up," said 1st Lt. Kristen Boustany, Joint Forces Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and one of the instructors during the week. 

"One new initiative is, ‘Ask her when she’s sober,’ which will avoid legal trouble (for the initiator)."

Photo: Capt. Sylvia Lopez (left), Wisconsin Army National Guard, and Sgt. 1st Class Charlene Powell, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation, Wisconsin Army National Guard, act out a victim-unit victim advocate scenario. (Photo by Master Sgt. Christina Steiner)
Capt. Sylvia Lopez (left), Wisconsin Army National Guard, and Sgt. 1st Class Charlene Powell, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation, Wisconsin Army National Guard, act out a victim-unit victim advocate scenario. (Photo by Master Sgt. Christina Steiner)

"Eighty-four percent of sexual assaults are (by) nonstrangers, and more than half are intimate partners," said Boustany.

SAPR is a Defense Department program, though each individual service may have slightly different terminology and protocol. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Office (SAPRO), headquartered at the Pentagon, governs each service’s program.

Confidential victim reporting became available in 2005. Up until then, victim reporting always initiated a criminal investigation. With confidential reporting, victims can receive health and psychological counseling, and can choose whether to press charges and initiate an investigation later. This is an incentive to encourage sexual assault victims to seek help.

In 2008, there were more than 2,900 sexual assault reports made among military servicemembers; of that, 2,155 were unrestricted and 753 were restricted, according to a congressional report. The reports have increased but that doesn’t necessarily mean sexual assaults have increased; it means more people are coming forward, said James Thompson, SAPRO training manager for the National Guard Bureau Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Only perhaps 10 to 15 percent of victims come forward to report, he said, so officials are not entirely sure of the actual numbers of sexual assault in the military.

Reasons victims do not report include: embarrassment, fear of retaliation, not being believed, and discouragement with the amount of time and effort it takes to report and file charges.

Changes in the SAPR program this past year include: adding sexual harassment training in with the mandatory annual requirement and processing sexual assaults as a line-of-duty investigation for Army Reservists and Guardsmen.

Typically, SAPR is a Title 10 Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) System for active-duty servicemembers on station more than 30 days. Otherwise, civil law takes precedence in a sexual assault case report.

UVA/IVAs go on rotational call, which lasts about a week, unless a case comes; then the advocate may be on SAPR duty for several months to a year if the case goes to trial. It is specialized training and requires that applicants meet certain criteria outlined in Army Regulation 600-20, Chapter 8, Army Command Policy. IVA/UVAs commanders must sign a Statement of Understanding releasing the advocate for duty in a SAPR case.

Fort McCoy’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator who manages the installation UVA/IVAs is Elizabeth Carmichael at 608-388-8951. She also is listed in Army Knowledge Online.

(Steiner is a member of the 2nd Battalion, 339th Regiment, 1st Brigade (Schools), 70th Training Division (Functional Training), 84th Training Command (Leader Readiness).)

 

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