CAMP FOSTER, Japan - The room is filled with chaplains and religious program specialists who came together from all over the Asia-Pacific region to discuss a serious topic: sexual assault.
The service members met for a three-day professional development training course May 20 at the Ocean Breeze on Camp Foster. This year the course focused on improving pastoral care in cases of sexual assault in the military.
Each year the chief of chaplains selects a topic of great concern to the military, according to Lt. Cmdr. David Cullen, the deputy director of professional development at the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center in Columbia, S.C.
Once developed, the course is sent to 12 global locations where Navy and Marine Corps fleets are concentrated. Unless deployed, every Navy chaplain and religious program specialist attends the course.
“During the course, the focus is not how to prevent sexual assault, but how to care for (those affected),” said Cullen, a Columbia, S.C., native.
One of the key elements that chaplains bring to this issue is confidentiality. A victim can talk to them about what happened before deciding to report the incident as restricted or unrestricted.
A restricted report allows the victim to tell specific individuals, like a uniformed victim advocate, about the incident and receive medical treatment, without obligation to notify the suspected perpetrator or military law professionals.
In contrast, an unrestricted report requires victims and their advocates to pursue an official investigation. The commander of the victim and the accused must be notified along with the appropriate parties.
“The chaplain will walk along (the victim’s) side in the journey to find healing and hope,” said Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, the chief of Navy chaplains. “When (people) experience sexual assault, their lives become unstable. The victims know when they talk to a chaplain, they control their story.”
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training is provided to all service members, but this course was tailored specifically to chaplains and religious program specialists, and discussed strategies and skills when dealing with sexual assault cases.
“During the course, participants will learn to identify physiological and psychological insights into sexual trauma, discuss the overall military judicial process in cases and its impact on victims, the accused and extended military community, and will identify the religious, mental health and legal resources available,” said Tidd, an Arlington, Va., native.
Over the course of three days, participants fine tune their skills by sharing their own knowledge and meeting with subject matter experts of sexual assault.
“Beyond the usual SAPR training, our job is really about being engaged with individual people,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Weems, a course participant and the chaplain with Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “When someone is assaulted or is an alleged offender, we can be there for them and take care of them.”
Sexual assault has a negative impact on a victim and unit morale.
It is important for chaplains and religious program specialists to build their pastoral and professional skills to improve how they inform and involve leadership on the topic, according to Weems, a Kingfisher, Okla., native.
Chaplains and religious program specialists work with leadership to ensure those affected by cases of sexual assault in the military are provided with resources to help them.
“It’s important for us to build our pastoral and professional skills when serving those affected by sexual assault to help them find opportunities to heal and help them rediscover the sense of hope,” said Tidd.