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    Fighting sexual assault the only job of these Soldiers

    Preventing sexual assault the only job of these Soldiers

    Photo By Capt. Travis Mueller | U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrea Whelan instructs battalion victim advocates on fostering a...... read more read more



    Story by Capt. Travis Mueller 

    28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade

    Master Sgt. John Paul Karpovich and Staff Sgt. Andrea Whelan have no duties other than preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault.

    During the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade’s deployment, they may not fly helicopters or perform one of the typical support roles in an aviation brigade. However, their role is vital for the overall cohesion of the unit and they are just as important as any Soldier whose job it is to keep their unit safe.

    “Sexual assault and sexual harassment to me, is the unseen enemy,” said Whelan, the victim advocate for the 28th ECAB. “It works to destroy our military from within.”

    “Each time there is an incident of sexual harassment or sexual assault it has an impact on the overall readiness of a unit,” said Karpovich, the sexual assault response coordinator for the 28th ECAB. “These incidents can reduce the trust in leadership and impact unit cohesion.”

    The command team has repeatedly stated that the 28th ECAB’s most important assets are its Soldiers and ensuring their safety and well-being are top priorities. Having Soldiers like Karpovich and Whelan help ensure that commitment is met. Along with those two, each battalion has victim advocates to ensure the unit is fostering a positive climate.

    Karpovich organizes weekly meetings with those battalion victim advocates to provide them with knowledge and resources to foster a positive climate and give the team the tools they need to help perform their duties.

    Karpovich has a direct line of communication with the brigade commander and his duties as the brigade SARC give him the freedom to visit various locations and ensure a climate exists that reduces the number of cases. His job as a SARC protects the investment the Army and the 28th ECAB has made in each Soldier but he and Whelan emphasize that Soldiers need to be treated like people and not numbers.

    “What if you were one of the impacted soldiers? Wouldn't you want us to be fully invested in you? What if it were your mother, sister, or wife? I would guess that you would want the best possible care for your loved one at any expense,” said Whelan. “People are not dollar signs, they are people and they need to be treated with compassion and understanding. My job as a victim advocate is to make sure they get that.”

    All SARCs and victim advocates are nationally credentialed through the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program. Prior to taking those positions, they all go through extensive police background checks, behavioral health checks, medical record checks, drug testing checks, personnel record checks and national sex offenders’ registry checks.

    Karpovich and Whelan stress that not only do SARCs and victim advocates need to be qualified for those positions of trust, but they also need desire.

    “I volunteered for this position, I wanted to be here, we need people who want to be here,” said Whelan. “This position is not for the weak. You have to be strong to handle what is going to come your way but when you see someone become a survivor it is worth it.”

    But if the Army’s sexual harassment and assault response and prevention program is so good, why do incidents still happen?

    “It would be unrealistic to think that all incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault would disappear overnight. We are doing our best to educate the force and encourage reporting,” said Karpovich. “The good news is that the Army has standards and they teach them to us and enforce them. Incidents occur when someone forgets their military bearing or leaders allow standards to be relaxed.”

    “The SHARP program is so important and we have to have leader buy-in for it,” said Whelan. “If a sexual assault does occur, then know that your SARCs and Victim advocates are there for the victim and their care and well-being is our number one priority.”

Admittedly, when one pictures a deploying Soldier, the thought of one whose sole duty it is to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual assault likely does not come to mind. However, both Karpovich and Whelan have held numerous “typical” jobs during their Army career. They bring all those experiences together to help them in their current roles and to have a positive impact on the brigade.

    Karpovich likes to introduce himself as the only SARC who is also a trained professional wrestler, which sparks conversations and makes people open up to him. He and Whelan want Soldiers to know that they can trust them and come to them with any issues, vowing to never leave any issues unaddressed.

    “When I told my seven-year-old grandson that I was deploying, he asked me what I was going to be doing. How do you tell a seven-year-old that you are a sexual assault victim advocate? I told him that my job was to help people who got hurt,” explained Whelan. “I have a multitude of resources at my disposal and letting the victim make their own decisions about their care puts control back into their hands. As they begin to regain their control, they begin to heal. Since most sexual assaults are committed by people that are known to the victim, the betrayal is devastating. They need someone to trust and that is why I am there. I work for the victim, not the commander, not the platoon sergeant, not anyone else. I work for the victim.”

    If you are a victim of sexual assault or harassment, please contact your sexual assault response coordinator or victim advocate.

    Master Sgt. John Paul Karpovich
    28th ECAB SARC

    Staff Sgt. Andrea Whelan
    28th ECAB Victim Advocate



    Date Taken: 07.20.2020
    Date Posted: 07.20.2020 16:58
    Story ID: 374239
    Location: FORT HOOD, TX, US 

    Web Views: 350
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