SLOAN, Nev. –
“There have been times when I would just call her crying. I couldn’t say anything, just cry over the phone. When everyone else disappeared, she was the only person who was there for me.”
These were the words of a former U.S. Army Reserve supply specialist who was sexually assaulted by her first-line supervisor in 2011.
The Soldier was referring to her victim advocate: a person who physically and emotionally supports sexual assault victims from the time they report the incident until the victim says they don’t need their support any longer.
The incident stated above was just one of the 3,374 reported assaults in the military that year, according to the Department of Defense, which doesn’t include unreported incidents.
Sexual assault reports have been on the rise since 2004, and the U.S. Army’s lead initiative to combat this war within its ranks is the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) program.
The program educates Soldiers about what sexual assault and harassment is and how it can be prevented, as well as how it can be reported if an incident occurs.
While that Soldier’s life went to a dark place in 2011, she said she made the hard decision of reporting the assault to her unit’s SHARP representative, which led her to being assigned a victim advocate, whom she credits with saving her life.
That victim advocate was Ms. Karen Goodwin.
“Honestly, Ms. Goodwin has been there since day one,” she said. “At one point, I got so depressed I didn’t answer my phone for two weeks. The next thing I knew, there she was, in person. She actually got on a plane and came to Florida for me.”
It’s this kind of commitment that has led Goodwin to the position she’s in now – the sexual assault response coordinator for the 200th Military Police Command, the largest police force in the Department of Defense, responsible for nearly 14,000 Soldiers.
While she still deals personally with victims, her role has increased from helping individual Soldiers to impacting and shaping the entire SHARP program for the command.
She has the responsibility of ensuring the ranks of the 200th are equipped with advocates, who are ready to support victims of sexual assault with the proper tools they need to be successful.
Being a successful victim advocate does not come easy. There has to be dedication. It’s a lengthy process, which includes education, evaluation boards and licensing. Once an advocate is licensed, they must actively continue refreshing and building on their skillset, as well as getting recertified every two years.
With the initiative of Goodwin, the 200th MP Command hosted a victim advocate refresher course in mid-March, at the George W. Dunaway Reserve Center in Sloan, Nevada.
The course hosted 20 victim advocates from across the U.S. Army Reserve and even the U.S. Army’s active duty component.
The training covered a various amount of topics that resulted in each advocate earning 33 hours of educational training that went toward the recertification process. Instead of inundating the audience with formal pedagogy and lectures, the 200th took a different route.
Survivors who have spoken before the U.S. congress shared their stories. The nation’s leading experts from the field offered their experience and knowledge. A sexual assault prevention activist and artist performed with spoken word.
“There wasn’t one speaker where I didn’t feel privileged to be sitting in the same room, listening to what they had to say,” said Capt. Liam Kozma, an active duty victim advocate for the 189th Combat Arms Training Brigade.
One of Kozma’s favorite speakers was a nurse who specializes in sexual assault examination.
“I was just listening to her grasp on the subject matter and how she explained the examination. It was incredible,” said Kozma. “I learned she sits on panels and is on the leading edge as someone who creates national standards in the field. Just to be in the same room was inspiring.”
When Goodwin advertised the 200th’s victim advocate training, Soldiers jumped on board to be part of it because of the passion they had for the program and the important mission it holds.
“Your heart has to be in this, because that’s what you would want if this were to happen to you,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tokuda Bailey, a victim advocate with the 63rd Readiness Division, who attended training.
When she was at a military school, Bailey was sexually assaulted. She reported the incident, but the proper protocol was not followed.
As a result, Bailey’s case was swept under the carpet.
“The only thing the advocate did for me was put her hand on my shoulder and say, ‘You’re going to be okay,’” said Bailey.
That was back in 2007, but she still remembers exactly how her assaulter looked and what he smelled like, she said.
That was the second time Bailey was sexually assaulted during her Army career, but she didn’t let that kill her spirit. She took her frustration and transformed it into motivation, and in 2015, she earned her credentials to become a victim advocate.
The program has come very far since Bailey’s incidents, she said.
“Things are much more organized now,” said Bailey. “There are programs that help with the physical and mental trauma and [the victim] has a sense of confidence because they know they can come forward.”
Victims are coming forward now, more than ever, especially because of the emphasis the Army has placed on eliminating sexual assault and in light of the #metoo movement, she said.
The Army has seen increasing success over the years with Soldiers’ confidence in the victim advocate program, but the Army Reserve faces a difficult challenge: there aren’t enough advocates to support victims.
DoD policy requires every unit in the Army to have a victim advocate assigned, but across the Army Reserve this is not a reality, said Goodwin.
It’s been part of Goodwin’s effort to recruit and train as many victim advocates as possible, but the job isn’t for everyone.
“You have to have a passion for helping and empathy for people,” said Goodwin. “And, as a [Reserve] Soldier, you have to know this may take you away from your job and family.”
But, if the passion is there, helping the victim will be very rewarding when a difference is made in that person’s life, she said.
When Soldiers enlist or commission into the Army, they do so knowing that they serve to protect their brothers and sisters in arms against any enemy, foreign and domestic. If that enemy dwells within the Army’s ranks in the form of sexual assault and harassment, every Soldier has a responsibility to stand against it.
Goodwin encourages all Soldiers who have a passion for helping others to become a victim advocate and help destroy this enemy in close combat.
To become a victim advocate, contact your unit’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.