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Commanders get sexual-assault prevention, response help

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 18, 2005) -- The new sexual assault response coordinator at Air Force bases will help commanders improve response to sexual assault.

As part of an effort to curtail sexual assaults within the ranks, DOD officials directed the services to appoint a coordinator at all appropriate levels of command.

The coordinator is responsible for orchestrating efforts among agencies working on sexual-assault cases, managing sexual-assault education and other prevention efforts on a military base. He or she also trains victim advocates and assigns them to sexual-assault victims.

Having a coordinator at all military installations provides a continuity ensuring a sexual-assault victim from any service will know who to go to no matter where he or she is stationed or deployed to, said Charlene Bradley, the Air Force's Sexual Assault Task Force leader.

"We have a more joint environment now, so if there is an incident, and they are on an Army fort, they need to know where to go to -- and the place to go is the (coordinator)," Ms. Bradley said. "That will be the same across (the Department of Defense).

Within the Air Force, the coordinator will report directly to the vice wing commander, Ms. Bradley said. Depending on the location, a GS-12 civilian or military officer will fill the positions.

Civilian coordinators will have education and experience in social work giving them a better understanding of sexual assault and trauma, and all coordinators will receive centralized training before taking on the new role.

Victim advocates will assist the coordinator. These advocates are trained and appointed by the coordinator to work directly with sexual-assault victims to provide care and assistance.

"The victim advocate is a liaison with the system," Ms. Bradley said. "(He or she) will look after the victim. Once a victim comes and says (he or she has) been assaulted, the assigned advocate will know who to go to for help. He or she will know what appointments need to be made and with whom."

The volunteer position of victim advocates will either be filled by servicemembers or Air Force civilians. Military advocates will have their training and status as a volunteer annotated in their records so they can serve as advocates while deployed, Ms. Bradley said.

Once a coordinator is assigned to an installation, servicemembers at all levels will be aware of the position. When a victim reports a sexual assault to a commander, the police, a supervisor or the medical community, everybody will be expected to know the coordinator needs to be notified.

As part of implementing the DOD's directives, Air Force officials also are working on a prevention program that includes adding training to all levels of professional military education.

Air Education and Training Command officials are developing appropriate training modules to be added to Air Force accession programs at basic military training, ROTC detachments and Officer Training School.

Ultimately, all Airmen will learn what the service's position is on sexual assault and what the definition of sexual assault is, officials said. They will receive the training at the onset of their careers and will receive reoccurring training on sexual assault at their bases, before deployments and during PME classes.

The Air Force has five main focus areas in its efforts related to sexual assault, Mrs. Bradley said. They are: policy and leadership, prevention through training, providing responsive victim care, enhancing reporting through avenues of restricted and unrestricted reporting, and improving prevention and response in the deployed environment.

"Our significant goal is prevention," she said. "We're going to do everything we can to prevent sexual assaults from happening through understanding the crime and the consequences, emphasizing respect and our core values in our training. But if it happens, we intend to make sure the victim gets the care (he or she needs) to heal."