News: Deployed service members receive victim advocacy training
Story by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - As with most sensitive issues, a thick air of tension filled a classroom room Oct. 26, the first day of the victim advocacy training course here. At best, the underlying topic of the course could be described as “uncomfortable,” as service members bodies stilled, some shed tears and others looked on with pained expressions upon hearing the chilling testimonies of sexual assault victims during a viewing of “Rape is,” a short film shown at the beginning of each training class.
Twenty-seven volunteers, mostly Air Force and a few coalition service members, attended a victim advocacy training course here led by the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing sexual assault response coordinator, Maj. Scott Crum, who is deployed here from Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.
“The purpose of the training was to allow new victim advocates to take their first steps into a ‘new world,’” said Crum, a Clifton, N.J., native. “For many people the VA world is like a new place ... they have no idea of the statistics, behaviors and challenges from both co-workers and loved ones regarding sexual assault. When people complete the training, I often hear from them ‘I had no idea things were like this or that people go thru these events.’”
Mirroring the five-day, 40-hour VA training stateside, the class was modified to accommodate the deployed service members to attend the course over two weekends, rather than a full week away from their work centers.
“The victim advocacy program allows service members with an interest in helping people and learning about themselves an opportunity to go out there and make it happen,” Crum said.
Effective Oct. 1, the Department of Defense mandated all VAs be professionally certified. Upon completion of the course, qualified members were eligible to apply for a national certification through the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
In July’s VA training course, 22 service members were able to leave with their certification, Crum said. In this class, all attendees were also able to begin their certification process.
During the course, members received briefings from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Area Defense Council, the Judge Advocate General Office and medical professionals here. They informed the volunteers of the vital roles each agency would play in a sexual assault case.
“Since victims suffer trauma and are pulled in so many different directions, it is important for the VA to be "multidisciplinary" as well,” Crum said. “Knowing all agencies involved, not just the nice ones, allows the VA to offer real services to victims, not just the ‘let me check with the SARC’ answer.”
Equipped with the knowledge of the victim reporting options, legal processes and other involved agencies, many of the volunteers said they benefited from seeing all sides of the spectrum.
“The victims of sexual crimes are dealing with a lot of emotions,” said Tech. Sgt. Casandra Nevins, the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron readiness and emergency management flight plans and operations noncommissioned officer in charge, and VA volunteer deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and Dayton, Ohio, native. “Having someone there to assist them in getting the resources they need allows the victim to not have to deal with the additional task of locating the name and phone number of who can help them for a variety of issues. The VA provides the victim the knowledge of knowing they have someone to support them in a situation where they feel the world is against them.”
On the last day of instruction, the volunteers were challenged to put their knowledge to the test in role playing scenarios. During the scenarios, one member would act as a victim and the other a VA and they walked through the procedures as if it were an actual interaction.
Maj. Crum explained no amount of practice can completely prepare VAs for every scenario, but the role plays help to build confidence in them to feel comfortable in whatever situation they may encounter.
In August, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel released a memorandum of SAPR initiatives stating, “When a crime does occur, we must ensure that victims’ rights are respected [and] they are provided responsive and timely support.”
The education and training the volunteers received provided them the tools to fall in line with military leader’s intent ensuring the welfare of victims of sexual assault.
Over time during the course, the sensitive topic became easier to talk about and have an open and honest dialogue about sexual assault, Nevins explained.
“Maj. Crum made the class welcoming and comfortable,” Nevins said. “Feeling comfortable enough to express emotions and feelings in a classroom environment with individuals I just met made the classroom environment more enjoyable.”