The Bayonet

Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2014

Victim rights strengthened by Department of Defense change

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GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — It’s a common scenario, a young Soldier drinks with acquaintances in the barracks, but what could be a relaxing evening can easily become a crime scene. The sexual assault trends reveal military sexual assaults most often happen after midnight, involve alcohol, and the victims and perpetrators aren’t strangers. However, the Army is implementing new measures to change attitudes and behaviors, while educating the force in hopes of preventing crimes.

“In many ways our communities are able to do a more effective job at training than I’ve seen at other communities, Shalise Bates-Pratt, victim advocate and SHARP specialist in the Tower Barracks community at Grafenwoehr, Germany, said. “I think there is more action at military communities.”

With more than 10 years of experience in sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy, Bates-Pratt says there is more work to be done, but additional resources, such as the newly appointed Special Victim Counsel, called SVC, and a greater emphasis on education through the Special Victim Prosecutor program are a great help.

“A SVC can help victims throughout the legal process. I can accompany a victim to any and all interviews and case proceedings. I protect their interest,” s Capt. Steven B. Suchomski, the chief of client services and the special victim counsel at Tower Barracks, said. “A victim is going through this very traumatic event and then they are going through this very complicated legal process.”

Congress and DoD mandated the SVC program to protect victims. Services are open to victims of sexual assault who are eligible for DoD legal assistance. There are three SVCs available locally. However, there should be at least one at each military installation, says Suchomski.

Additionally, the SVP provides highly trained and experienced prosecutors to litigate and manage cases of sexual assault, while also educating military leaders and the community-at-large of myths surrounding sexual assault.

“When there is an allegation of sexual assault, there are often beliefs about how the victim should react,” Lawrence Steele, the Grafenwoehr’s SVP, said. “Part of the SVP’s job is to help explain ‘atypical’ victim behavior.”

Steele says he often uses an analogy based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, to help leaders understand how sexual trauma affects victims.

“Ten years ago, Army leaders at all levels may not have fully understood how PTSD affected our Soldiers,” he said. “But leaders have come to understand that PTSD comes in many forms, at various times, and results from varied experiences.”

Steele says, just as there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ PTSD behavior, there is no ‘typical’ behavior or reaction for sexual trauma.

“It’s different for everyone,” he said.

Steele said the first step to educating Soldiers and leaders is to ensure all understand that a stranger-rape in a dark alley scenario is very rare in military communities.

“It’s usually someone the victim knows or is acquainted with, more likely than not, a fellow Soldier in the same barracks or unit,” he said.

Since sexual assaults in military communities are often perpetrated by acquaintances in a normally safe environment, Steele says a victim is often further traumatized. “If the person who raped or sexually assaulted you is a friend or acquaintance, and a fellow Soldier, then a victim is rarely excited about sharing that traumatic experience with others.”

However, these day’s victims are more likely to report incidents. Communities Armywide have instituted awareness campaigns, and tactics, such as help lines to ensure trained personnel available 24/7 to answer questions.

“Having the training available and the aggressiveness of the training is helpful in many ways. Everyone knows what SHARP is, in our community,” Bates- Pratt said. “Not everyone in other communities, including civilian communities, can even name the organizations or resources they can go to besides the police. Most people in our community know they can go to SHARP reps, the military police, the Chaplain. Awareness is definitely at a high right now.”

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