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The backbone of support: sexual assault victim advocates

By Joint Base San Antonio Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Team | Joint Base San Antonio Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Team | April 8, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

Sexual assault is one of the most violent crimes in our society. It is the most under-reported crime with 63 percent of sexual assaults not being reported to police.

In the military, according to the Department of Defense, 6,769 sexual assault reports were made to military officials during fiscal year 2017. That number is almost six hundred more reports from fiscal year 2016.

However, when reviewing the fiscal year 2016 prevalence surveys conducted with military members (which note what members report anonymously versus to official agencies), that number could be as high as 14,900.

Although extremely high, that number is a significant decrease from past prevalent surveys, and although official reporting is up, many in the field believe this could be a good sign. People are trusting the system enough to come forward and make an official report, while anonymous surveys show that incidences are actually down.

Any way you look at it, sexual assault is a problem in the military and it is critical that members affected receive support, services and understanding from trained professionals and volunteers via the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.

Sexual assault victim advocates are perhaps the backbone of victim support at Joint Base San Antonio. All Army, Navy and Air Force victim advocates receive mandated specialized training on the impact of sexual assault and how to respond to and support its victims.

Research notes that a victim advocate’s support can make a huge impact on the long term recovery for victims of sexual assault.

It takes a lot of courage for a person to come forward and report that they were sexually assaulted. Survivors of sexual assault are looking for someone to not only support them and educate them on their rights, but someone to BELIEVE them and not blame them for the assault. 

Victim advocates work with victims to accept the reality of the powerlessness they felt during the incident but then help victims find ways to build power back into the victim’s life and perception. This process of empowering can be very long for some victims but it is imperative in ultimate recovery.

One approach victim advocates and counselors in the field use while helping victims of sexual assault is calling the person a “survivor” of sexual assault, not a “victim.”

To some people who don’t work in the area of sexual assault impact, calling someone who was sexually assaulted a “survivor” may seem odd. Generally people don’t completely understand the victim’s perception of what was happening to them during the assault.

However, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2010, up to 58 percent of people who are raped believed they were not going to live through the incident. The assault was a “life or death” moment and he or she was completely powerless.

When noting someone is a “victim” of sexual assault, it may conjure up feelings of powerlessness again for the individual. This can be counter to one’s recovery.

Victim advocates attempt to validate the person’s experience while also empowering the individual as a strong individual. Using the term “survivor” may be beneficial for the person’s perspective and recovery.

The role of a victim advocate has proven crucial in the recovery of many military sexual assault victims. The victim advocate’s role is to validate and redirect a person’s myths and misconceptions regarding the sexual assault. Believing the individual, not blaming the individual, empowering the individual and validating the trauma of the sexual assault is important in the role of a person’s ultimate recovery.

To be a volunteer victim advocate, contact the Joint Base San Antonio SAPR office at 210-808-8990 or the local Rape Crisis Center at 210-521-7273 for more information.