JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. , –
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. The message serving as this year’s theme is “Protecting our people protects our mission.”
The office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) is tasked with oversight of the DoD’s sexual assault policy, as well as implementation of innovative prevention and response programs. Central to carrying out this responsibility on military installations is the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), who serves as the single point of contact for integrating and coordinating care for victims of sexual assault.
“As a SARC I have unimpeded access to the commanding officer of the installation for the express purpose of reporting incidents of sexual assault,” said Iraina Witherspoon, 87th Air Base Wing SARC. “We then coordinate care and any other response measures with the commanding officer for that particular victim, as our regulations dictate.”
Witherspoon, a U.S. Army veteran, has been at the forefront of JB MDL’s implementation of SAPR from its inception. More recently, in May 2018, the 87th ABW was the first in the Air Force to have an approved Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) from Headquarters Air Force (HAF). As the DoD’s only tri-service installation, HAF deemed an SOP for JB DL essential for a total force response to sexual assault and harassment.
“To ensure a comprehensive response to victim care, we hold the only tri-service monthly case management meeting in the Air Force,” said Witherspoon. “We also have the only tri-service hotline connecting victims to their service specific response 24/7.”
Roxanne McElroy-White, U.S. Army Support Activity, Dix SARC, serves alongside Witherspoon as JB MDL’s largest mission partner. With an extensive career in social work and victim advocacy dating back to the creation of Megan’s Law, the New Jersey native brings decades of experience to JB MDL.
“As SARC for the Army, we operate under Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP), our handling of initial reports of harassment is what makes us different from our sister services,” said McElroy-White. “It’s important to have the highest level of training so that every preventative measure is in place to better serve our population.”
The importance of quality training is key, according to Toniann Teixiera, U.S. Naval Weapons Station, Earl SARC. With a background in psychology, Teixiera’s training for victim advocates and commanding officers emphasizes the link between harassing behavior and assault.
“A major focus of our training sessions, in addition to crisis intervention, is primary prevention,” said Teixiera. “Nearly allowing an assault to happen before intervention isn’t enough. We get ahead of the issue when we can intervene at lower levels, such as sexist remarks. That’s primary prevention.”
Teixiera believes that primary prevention is ultimately about changing cultures, and not just military culture, but society at large.
“Sexual assault prevention hinges upon the way we treat one another and the kind of environment we allow ourselves to live in,” said Teixiera. “Perpetrators slip through nets in cultures of unaccountability. By making inappropriate behaviors and remarks unacceptable every time is how we start to hold each other accountable.”
Confidential reporting and other services through a SARC are available to all Active-Duty service members, Guard and Reserve components, dependents age 18 and above, and both appropriated and non-appropriated civilians.
“We can actually help people in these kinds of situations, from learning about their rights, to policies, to connecting them with the proper resources, no one has to suffer in silence,” said Witherspoon. “We’ve seen victims survive assault and go on to lead happy, successful, fulfilling lives; it all starts with the courage to reach out…”
If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual harassment or assault, resources are available to you. Contact the DoD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247 or visit https://safehelpline.org/search.cfm to locate the appropriate SARC for your locale.