Victim Advocates-Making a Difference

  • Published
  • By Ernie Gray
  • Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
Allied with Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) on the front lines in the war against sexual assault, victim advocates (VAs) are the lifeblood of the United States Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program.

VAs are military members or DoD civilian volunteers who possess essential information and resources and whose primary role is to serve the needs of sexual assault victims/survivors for as long as needed.

VAs must receive command approval, a thorough screening and background checks to ensure they are right for the job, in additon to completing 40 hours of training before providing support to victims.

Victim advocate programs are a critical part of any community response. Once the SARC is notified of a reported sexual assault, a VA is immediately assigned--with the victim's permission.

It is crucial that VAs quickly respond to victims in a non-judgmental and supportive manner. In a crisis situation, VAs do encourage and help victims get medical attention.

They provide information about what to expect, provide emotional support, connect victims to other services and maintain the victim's confidentiality.

VAs suggest options but allow victims to decide what course of action to take.

They evaluate the victims' safety and help with safety plans, referrals and reassure victims that what happened was not their fault. Throughout all aspects of their work, VAs and SARCs try to prevent secondary victimization--which is insensitive victim blaming treatment.

Beyond the immediate crisis situation, VAs can also provide support to victims who choose to use the justice system. VAs can accompany victims to investigative interviews and to court, and provide information about the legal process.

VAs continue to follow-up with victims to check on their well being and answer questions until they are no longer needed.

If a sexual assault occurs, active duty Airmen have two reporting options: restricted and unrestricted.
Restricted reporting allows a sexual assault victim to confidentially disclose the details of their assault to a SARC so they receive medical treatment and assistance and counseling without triggering an investigation.
Unrestricted reporting is for sexual assault victims who want an official investigation, in addition to medical treatment, referrals and counseling.
According to Capt. Jacki Grant, a Patrick AFB, Victim Advocate for five years, she volunteered as a VA because "I sought to educate and assist personnel overseas and to gather as many 'tools' as possible to pass on to my daughter. But, as I became more involved and assisted with cases, my focus changed to wanting to help victims through the healing process."

"Although we have a zero tolerance policy, sexual assault happens. At times, our own teammates are afraid to come forward for fear of retribution or they think they may have provoked the situation," Captain Grant said. "Continuing to educate our military team with training is key to reducing these crimes and empowering everyone to do the right thing."

The most rewarding aspect of being a VA for Captain Grant is "knowing in some small way I was able to assist by promoting the program, training our Wingmen or helping a victim."

Volunteers are one of our most important natural resources; People volunteer because they are compassionate, believe in a cause, want to make a difference and give back to their community.

VAs make a difference. Hooray for VAs!

For more information about victim advocacy (here at Vandenberg) or if you are interested in becoming a VA, contact the Vandenberg AFB SARC at (805) 606-SARC.