Victim Advocates: empowering care for others

By Staff Sgt. Amber Ashcraft 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

According to the Department of Defense's website, www.sapr.mil, U.S. military services received more than 3,000 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects in fiscal year 2011.

The number does not include the assaults that went unreported.

"Victims often do not report out of fear and because of the stigma against the Sexual Assualt Response Coordinator and our victim advocates," said Capt. Dallas Webb, Barksdale's SARC. "But the VA's have a strong level of confidentiality they can provide. They're just people who want to help others."

Along with the SARC, there are approximately 50 VA's here who are available 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week.

The VA's range in age, gender, rank and career field and have received more than 40 hours of required training, not including the quarterly refresher training.

"Their goal is to help empower the victims to understand there are helping choices they may have," said Webb. "They provide 100 percent victim care; they do not judge, there is no blaming and though they do not provide clinical or legal assistance, they support them through the entire process."

During initial training, potential VA's learn particular SARC words and communication to use during certain situations, such as when a phone call comes through from a victim and how to initiate a sexual assault case. A checklist is provided to the VA for things that must be accomplished, and they also participate in role playing.

"We don't send anyone out who is brand new to navigate the start of a case when you're first meeting with victims to get things signed," said Webb. "Figuring out the services that may be needed such as bringing in the Office of Special Investigations or medical treatment, can be difficult conversations to have."

Before individuals attend training, they must fill out applications.

"The application specifically asks why they want to become a VA," said Webb. "Along with the formalities of obtaining a commander's signature, a background check by OSI and notifying their first shirt they'd like to become an advocate, I also interview them to find out more about them."

A VA is typically the same rank, or near the same rank of the victim, and also the gender of their preference. There are civilian VA's as well, if preferred. It's also noted if the VA has pets, children marital status. This helps the victim will feel more comfortable and relatable to the VA.

"We knock the 40 hours of initial training out during a week-long course," said Webb. "During this time, we all get to know each other better and I take notes during ice breakers of each VA. The one's who stay involved, we get to know well. We become a small family. If any of my advocates are having a hard time, we help each other through it, since it's what we signed up for."

The VA's become long-term care providers for victims as well, added Webb.

"If someone has a bad day, they call their VA," she said. "They're there to help provide day-to-day support. The program isn't an Air Force or Barksdale thing necessarily. These are just very good people wanting to help others."

For any questions concerning the SARC or Victim's Advocate programs, call 456-6836 or the hot line at 456-7272.