NEW ORLEANS, La. –
“This type of training conference is important for Army SHARP professionals because it expands our network and resources on a national level. When assisting Soldiers serving on active duty, in the reserve, and in the National Guard they are not always in one location,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joel Perkins, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, 157th Infantry Brigade. So being able to call upon a network of advocates whom we have met at the conference to help us in times of need is of great benefit to us.”
The Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program is designed to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment and assault, provide victim advocacy to ensure prompt and sensitive care for victims, and encourage reporting of all occurrences by providing reporting options.
Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates from across the U.S. Army attended an annual training conference hosted by the National Organization for Victim Assistance in New Orleans, July 31 – August 3, 2023.
NOVA is a nonprofit organization committed to the recognition and implementation of victim rights and services. In 2003 NOVA established the National Advocate Credentialing Program. Army SHARP professionals receive training certified by the NACP and are credentialed through the DOD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program.
SARCs serve as a point of contact to coordinate sexual assault victim care. They track the services provided to victims starting from the initial report of a sexual assault and ensure that victims receive appropriate and compassionate care to overcome trauma.
The VA provides essential support and care to the victim to include providing non-clinical information on available options and resources to assist the victim in making informed decisions as they progress through resolution and healing. The VA maintains communications and contact with victim as needed for continued victim support.
“As Victim Advocates, we walk the victims through the process and ensure they have access to the resources they need. We put them on a path to feel like themselves again, and reclaim their voice,” said Sgt. 1st Class Stephanique Jones, Victim Advocate, 2-364th Training Support Battalion, 5th Armored Brigade.
Army SHARP professionals expressed the value of networking with the other approximately 2,000 victim assistance professionals in attendance at the event.
Staff Sgt. Chastity Caldwell, Victim Advocate, 3-313th Logistics Support Battalion, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command, shared her thoughts on the value of the NOVA event.
“Attending this event allows us to meet with other professionals outside of the military who have had experiences that we might not normally encounter in our organizations. Connecting with those individuals provides us with knowledge that we might not have been taught in the Army schoolhouse and better prepares us to assist Soldiers in navigating them through those situations,” said Caldwell.
This year’s NOVA conference consisted of nearly 100 different workshops where Army SHARP professionals heard firsthand from subject matter experts who shared lessons learned and best practices.
“The face-to-face interaction with the presenters during the sessions has been fantastic. There is so much knowledge to draw upon, across a wide spectrum of topics, such as advocacy and trauma care,” said Sgt. 1st Class Leticia Rodriguez, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, First Army, Division West. “A venue like this gives you the opportunity to tailor your training to fit your interests and role. This training helps you build your knowledge base to be a better advocate and then teach others what you have learned here.”
Throughout the four-day training conference, Army SARCs and VAs emphasized the importance of seeking help for those who have been victimized.
“For Soldiers that have been sexually assaulted, more than anything else, seek council,” said Master Sgt. Alaine Latoya Gilpin, Victim Advocate, 4-409th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Cavalry Multi-Functional Training Brigade. “Find the grit and courage to get the services you need. Do what feels most comfortable to you. For instance, the Army gives victims the option of restricted or unrestricted reporting. Some Soldiers do not feel comfortable informing their chain of command and having an unrestricted case, so Soldiers should use the options they feel are the best fit for them.”
Filing a restricted report allows Soldiers to confidentially disclose a sexual assault to a SARC or VA without notifying the command or law enforcement. Soldiers can change a restricted report to an unrestricted report at any time.
Filing an unrestricted report allows for an official investigation, command notification, and reporting to law enforcement. An unrestricted report can be made to a SARC, VA, law enforcement official, a commander or health care personnel.
Throughout the event, Army SHARP professionals further stressed that victims of sexual harassment and assault in the military have options for seeking help.
“Understand that you have the option go to any Sexual Assault Response Coordinator or Victim Advocate within the Department of Defense to get help. It does not matter what service the SHARP professional is with. We are all credentialed the same and we will take those reports and get the servicemembers the help that they need,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Sydnor, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, First Army, Division East. “If you don’t feel comfortable with the people where you are, then you can go to another place.”
If you are a victim of sexual assault in the military and need assistance, call the DoD Safe Helpline: 877-995-5247.