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STEP FORWARD. Prevent. Report. Advocate.

By Senior Airman Daira Jackson | 386 AEW Public Affairs | April 05, 2022

ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait --

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is observed each year during the month of April to raise awareness and educate service members on the prevention of sexual assault.

The Department of Defense’s 2022 theme is STEP FORWARD. Prevent. Report. Advocate. This theme is a call to action for individuals at all levels of the DoD to use their personal strength to advance positive change in preventing and reporting sexual violence.

“We make sure that not only are we responding to cases of assault and harassment, but also get after prevention: What can we do to instill the morals and ethics of bystander intervention training?” said U.S. Army Maj. Samantha Douglas, lead sexual assault response coordinator for the 1st Theater Sustainment Command at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. “This way we can reduce the number of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases.”

Douglas, who manages eight brigades at the theater sustainment level, and oversees both the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program on base and the Army’s Sexual Harassment, Assault, Response, and Prevention program at Camp Arifjan, ensures that the programs are following protocols and procedures, in addition to providing victim advocacy to those who are directly aligned under her company and on base.

Since prevention through training is key to help reduce the number of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases, PowerPoint slides were replaced with more interactive sessions in a small group setting in an effort for the trainings to be more proactive and engaging.

“If you have [service members] feeling comfortable, or empowered enough to say, ‘Hey, this is inappropriate,’ then you'll definitely get ahead of prevention, or get to prevention,” said Douglas.

When there’s an allegation of sexual assault, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations is going to be the lead investigating organization, with the legal office advising and providing additional expertise.

“We're here to help reinforce the Air Force's goal of zero incidents of sexual assault and reducing incidents of sexual harassment as well,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Dustin Kouba, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing lead attorney and staff judge advocate.

According to SAPR.mil, under the DoD's SAPR Policy, service members and their adult military dependents have two reporting options—restricted reporting and unrestricted reporting.

The site states, “Under unrestricted reporting, both the command and law enforcement are notified. With restricted (confidential) reporting, the adult sexual assault victim can access healthcare, advocacy services, and legal services without the notification to command or law enforcement.”

“Restricted once meant that nobody knew outside of the SARC or SHARP. There would be limited resources available to the victim and their case wouldn't be investigated. It wouldn't go forward because privacy might be more important to the victim,” said Kouba, whose previous assignment consisted of supervising 13 attorneys and 13 paralegals who were focused on victim services.

“Unrestricted opens the door to a lot more resources and allows for expedited transfers to get out of a bad environment and maybe get close to family or friends in a different location. Typically, that expedited transfer is not available for restricted cases. Unrestricted reports lead to law enforcement investigations,” said Kouba, who spent a large part of his career supporting victims as they go through these difficult times.

There was a recent change to Title 10, where even if an incident gets reported to the victim’s supervisory chain, the victim can keep their report of sexual assault restricted—with one caveat.

“If you tell somebody in your supervisory chain that something happened to you, you can still have a restricted report, but that supervisory chain still has an obligation to tell law enforcement the information that they know,” said Kouba. “So the victim might still choose to not participate and have a restricted report.”

However, the Air Force OSI might still be required to take investigative steps and interview identified witnesses.

Alternatively, someone could report that they've been sexually assaulted directly to the SARC or a volunteer victim advocate. Victim advocates are available 24/7, including holidays, and provide direct one-on-one care to victims of sexual assault or complaints of sexual harassment.

“We're not mandatory reporters,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kindra Carter, volunteer victim’s advocate and weather flight chief, 407th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron. “If a person wants to just talk about an assault, or if somebody wants to start an investigation, I have direct contact with the JAG to get it started.”

Carter, who has extensive training and a background check as a volunteer victim’s advocate, said that she has noticed more people are coming forward and going with unrestricted cases.

“Because I think that stigma is slowly getting taken down,” said Carter. “It makes me really happy that they're not afraid.”

There are many resources and services available to discuss or report an incident: SARC, SHARP, volunteer victim advocates, the Air Force Victims’ Counsel European Circuit at Aviano Air Base, Italy, which covers the U.S. Air Forces Central area of responsibility, Chaplain, Mental Health, the sexual assault medical forensic examiner at Medical, SAFE Helpline and app, and Military OneSource.

If you are a victim of sexual assault or would like more information, you may contact the DOD Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5247 or contact the SARC/SHARP 1st TSC OCP 24/7 Hotline at +502-999-4360.

You may also contact members of Aviano, Italy, Air Force Victims’ Counsel European Circuit: U.S. Air Force Capt. Regina Mason or U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kourtney Rollins at DSN: 314-632-2430.

“Ideally, every victim has voice and choice; every Airman is treated with dignity and respect; and every accused receives proper due process throughout any investigation or command action,” said Kouba.

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