Defense Secretary Ash Carter today honored six individuals from across the military as sexual assault response coordinators of the year, saying they promoted a climate of trust in which sexual assault is not tolerated or ignored.
The six reinforced a culture of prevention, accountability, dignity and respect, Carter said at the Pentagon ceremony that honored the women. Carter also announced a sexual assault retaliation prevention strategy at the event.
"Wherever sexual assault occurs – whether it's on the frontlines or here at home – it not only undermines our values, it undercuts our ability to execute our mission, which is to protect our people and make a better world for our children," he said.
The sexual assault response coordinators, or SARCs, served as models in their response to sexual assault, he said.
"These six individuals [are] trailblazers. They know their part, they do their part, and they’re doing whatever it takes to fight against sexual assault in our military ranks," Carter said.
In a statement, Army Maj. Gen. Camille Nichols, the director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, applauded the six for their outstanding contributions.
“The 2016 exceptional SARCs deserve recognition for their professional abilities and service on the frontlines and for the quality care they provide for victims of sexual assault,” she said. “I am privileged to work with such dedicated and compassionate individuals who continue to strengthen the department’s prevention and response efforts.”
The awards are presented in conjunction with April’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
SARCs Honored for Commitment
Army Sgt. 1st Class Raquel Mendoza at Fort Carson, Colorado, created a triage decision tree that ensured anyone standing guard was trained to properly handle sexual assault when it occurred, notify the responsible parties, assist in the preservation of evidence, and protect the rights of the survivor, Carter said.
The decision tree is so effective that it is being replicated throughout the Army, Carter said, adding that Mendoza also established an on-base mentorship program to help survivors, and raise awareness of sexual assault prevention.
Navy civilian Deborah Drucker, with Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, helped to shift the expectations and perceived norms within the submarine community to integrate and welcome female crew members, Carter said.
"She also confronted the long-held stereotype that all survivors of sexual assault are female and all perpetrators are male," the secretary said. "She encouraged members of her community to consider male as well as female survivors, which is vital to changing environments and behaviors."
Marine Corps civilian Jacqueline Maxwell demonstrated extraordinary compassion for the survivors of sexual assault at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, and determination to improve how to teach personnel about sexual assault, Carter said.
Her efforts led to the first Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Proclamation of Support by unit and base commanders. "From the ground up, she inspired military leaders to commit to a total team effort to prevent sexual assault," Carter said.
Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Belleau ensured the men and women across AFRICOM had an advocate and the resources they needed across 15 geographically separated operating locations supporting over 7,000 service members.
"Through education, orientation and frequent outreach, she helped establish evacuation procedures to transport survivors from across the command to locations with certified providers of forensic exams," Carter said.
Army Master Sgt. Class Melinda Heikkinen traveled more than 3,000 miles as the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Washington Army National Guard to advocate for survivors, he said, adding that she created a policy for victim care and response that enabled all restricted reporting cases to move to unrestricted reports.
"This policy encouraged a cultural shift allowing survivors to be comfortable to report assault and receive compassionate care," Carter said.
Coast Guard civilian Simone Hall at Coast Guard headquarters used cutting edge technology to ensure that 6,500 military and civilian employees with the Coast Guard had instant access to sexual assault prevention and response services.
"She is dedicated to establishing an environment within her service that promotes dignity and respect for every individual, with the ultimate goal of eliminating sexual assault," Carter said.