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Sexual Assault Prevention and Response in time of COVID-19

By Rachel Kersey | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | May 21, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

With the implementation of shelter-in-place orders nationwide and new schedules for those still working, citizens at home have an increased risk of severe interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts, such as sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and suicide, and those continuing to report for duty have relational difficulties to overcome as well. This is the first in a series about risk and resilience. Resources can be found at the bottom of the article. Please do not be afraid to reach out if you need help!

Dr. Charlotte Moerbe is the Joint Base San Antonio Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, or SAPR, program director. According to Moerbe, people who are at increased risk for sexual assault during these uncertain times are those who live at home with partners, especially those with violent tendencies.

Family Advocacy is available to help victims in those situations. However, during this time, many JBSA personnel continue to go to work and live their daily routines out of necessity, and sexual assault can occur anywhere, in any environment, to include domestic and work or training environments.

“As the largest Department of Defense training installation in the world here at Joint Base San Antonio, training hasn’t stopped,” Moerbe said. “We serve a very high-risk population, 18-24 year olds, who unfortunately continue to be a majority of our sexual assault caseload.”  

As far as JBSA training goes, Basic Military Training only scratches the surface. There is the Medical Education and Training campus at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, pilot training at JBSA-Randolph and other various forms of training across the installations.

A common misconception is that sexual assault only happens at home or at recreational areas like bars or clubs. However, sexual assault can happen anywhere and to anyone, including in the school and work environments.

Sexual assault is defined as unwarranted, non-consensual sexual behaviors that can range from rubbing or groping a person in different spots of the body for sexual gratification all the way to forceable intercourse, which is rape. Whatever the behavior, if it is sexual, non-consensual and tactile, it is assault.

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program cares for anyone over the age of 18 who has been sexually assaulted by someone who is not an intimate partner or family member. These assaults can happen at the hands of a total stranger, an acquaintance, coworker, or even a close friend.

In addition, COVID-19 isolation could bring up painful memories of past assaults, and SAPR is available to assist anyone struggling with past incidents as well as recent ones. 

It’s always best to stop sexual assault before it happens, though. Whether abusers are abusive because of nature or nurture is still up for debate, but according to Moerbe, major societal causes include the desensitization of sex and the objectification of, most often, women. 

“Issues in society make it more difficult for us, I think, to do our job of prevention because some things are just accepted or tolerated,” Moerbe said. “People act out, and these societal challenges make it hard for us to eradicate sexual assault.

“Personnel at JBSA should continue to be active bystanders in this current situation," she added. "It is important to not let the current pandemic distract practicing good Wingmanship.” 

Ways to practice good Wingmanship including, watching your surroundings and looking for signs of an individual who may be vulnerable or susceptible to sexual assault. You should intervene when you see these situations.

“The number one thing that I would like people to understand is, despite the fact that things are ongoing with COVID-19, we still have the SAPR resources that are available 24/7,” Moerbe said. “Even if individuals have questions or concerns related to sexual assault, they can always reach out on our 24-hour hotline.  People don’t have to identify themselves and can remain confidential.”  

As they say, if you see something, say something. And if you need help, don’t be afraid to say that either.  

“We are still here to support, day or night,” Moerbe said.  

The phone number for SAPR’s 24/7 hotline is 210-808-7272. Anyone can call with questions, to report a situation, or for emotional support. 

There are also SAPR victim advocates, who are trained to support any individuals in crisis. They are available in-person or via teleconference. 

Moerbe also encourages people to reach out to the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center. Their hotline phone number is 210-349-7273. 

The DOD Safe Hotline is available for prevention response and emotional support. Their phone number is 877-995-5247.

Finally, for more information on sexual assault, the impact of it, and how to prevent it, visit www.safehelpline.org.