Minnesota National Guard
Increase in sexual assault reports a positive sign

Response to sexual assault is now a concern at the top levels of government. Accordingly, this April marks the eighth annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month observed by the Department of Defense and the military services.

Statistics show that more Service members are reporting sexual assaults with each passing year, but there's a blessing to that.

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"An increase in reports shows a cultural and climate change demonstrating trust, education, and awareness,"said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kelly Wilkinson, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Minnesota National Guard's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office.

Wilkinson attributes the rise in reports to the intensive training that each Servicemember receives as part of regular training throughout the year.

Every Minnesota National Guard member is educated about perpetrator behavior, bystander intervention, command climate, resources for help, reporting options, and more. Unit victim advocates undergo additional training, often with chaplains and civilian subject matter experts.

"A rise in sexual assault reports is a positive trend that we do not want to discourage," she said.

Wilkinson was selected by the National Guard Bureau as one of four individuals to represent the National Guard at the 2012 SAPR conference in Washington D.C. this past March. In Washington, Wilkinson provided a briefing for Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, director for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office of the Department of Defense.

"We have to eliminate this problem from our ranks," Hertog said at the conference. "The American public gives us what's most dear to them and that's their sons and daughters. And they trust us that we're going to take care of them."

In the past year, the Minnesota SAPR office has developed Standard Operating Procedures for command and leadership. Within the SOP is detailed instruction for commanders in the event of a report and step-by-step guidance for all sexual assault response coordinators and unit victim advocates when supporting a victim of sexual assault. At the National Guard Bureau, the expedited transfer process continues to be addressed.

The SAPR office has also stood up a Facebook page in 2012 and now publishes a quarterly newsletter.

"Our number one priority is to ensure Service members get the help they need to overcome the trauma of sexual assault that occurs on or off duty,"said Wilkinson.

According to the most recent Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military at www.sapr.mil, common reasons for not reporting sexual assaults are: not wanting anyone to know, feeling uncomfortable making the report, thinking the report would not be kept confidential, fear of retaliation or reprisal from the perpetrator, fear of being labeled a troublemaker, hearing about negative experiences of other victims, and thinking that nothing would be done.

The SAPR program is a victim-focused program that responds to all sexual assault reports with care, concern, and confidentiality. The goal is to provide a safe means for victims of sexual assault to report the assault with or without triggering an investigation, and most of all receive access to the medical services needed to heal from any physical, mental, or emotional trauma.

Options for those seeking help include:

- Calling the hotline at 877-995-5247 to speak with Safe Helpline staff for personalized advice and support.
- Texting a location to 55247 inside the United States or 202-470-5546 outside of the United States to receive automated contact information for the SARC at their installation or base.

- Visiting http://www.SafeHelpline.org to receive live, one-on-one confidential help with a trained professional through a secure instant-messaging format.  The website also provides vital information about recovering from and reporting sexual assault. 

Visit www.MinnesotaNationalGuard.org/sarc for links and more information.

By Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs
1 April 2012

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