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Assault Victims Find Empowerment in Restricted Reporting

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2008 – Many sexual assault victims in the military are using an option that allows them to disclose the details of the assault confidentially and receive medical treatment and counseling without triggering the official investigative process, a senior official in the military’s fight against sexual assault said yesterday.

Since the “restricted reporting” option became available in June 2005, more than 1,800 servicemembers who were victims of sexual assault or rape have used it, Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said during a “DotMilDocs” radio program on BlogTalkRadio.com.

“I usually say that is probably 1,800 people [who] wouldn’t have reported that sexual assault,” Whitley said.

Upon notification of a reported sexual assault, sexual assault response coordinators, or SARCs, immediately assign a victim advocate to provide accurate information on the processes of both restricted and unrestricted reporting to the victim. If the victim chooses to use restricted reporting, Whitley explained, health care providers initiate the appropriate care and treatment and report the sexual assault to a sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC, in lieu of reporting the assault to law enforcement or the command.

At the victim’s discretion, an appropriately trained health care provider will conduct a sexual assault forensic examination, which may include the collection of evidence. In the absence of a Defense Department provider, the servicemember will be referred to an appropriate civilian facility for the exam, Whitley said.

The command is not notified of the victim’s identity, but the command is notified that a sexual assault took place. This gives the commander an opportunity to take protective or awareness measures for the installation’s population, Whitley explained.

“It’s really important that people come forward, because anyone that has ever worked with any type of trauma victim knows that early intervention is key … so our goal in having restricted reporting is to get that victim in there to get the medical care and counseling that they need,” she said.

The option of restricted reporting in the military has provided victims of sexual assault or rape the same option as those in the civilian sector who may involve authorities about the assault, Whitley noted.

“I usually give the example that if I worked for a major corporation in the civilian sector and I am sexually assaulted or raped, if I go forward for medical help or care, they don’t pick up the phone and call my boss at the corporation,” she said. “Now, if a [military] victim reports a sexual assault to receive medical care, the choice to notify the command is the victim’s. That is empowering for the individual.”

The SARC implements and manages the command’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and serves as consultant to the commander. Whitley calls this position the “center of gravity” for the entire program.

“The program on any given installation is only as good as the SARC,” she said. “They have a huge responsibility. This is a command-sponsored program, so that SARC has to have a good working relationship with the commander, and the commander has to be involved.”

Whitley added that besides the SARC, a whole team works together when a victim reports a sexual assault or rape.

“Our office is responsible for oversight of the programs,” Whitley said. “When we go out to assess teams, we include people from the service SAPRO offices to join us, so they participate in visiting the installations.”

Training provided to all of the members of the team that assist victims of sexual assault is key to the success of the program, Whitley said.

“There are the chaplains. There are the trained doctors, the forensic nurses, the mental health counselors, the lawyers, the investigators. So, there is a whole team of people that work together on behalf of the victim,” she said.

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office

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