Whether because of better reporting or other factors, sexual assaults have increased across the military.
“CID investigated more cases of sexual assault in the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden in the first four months of 2012 than they did for the entire year of 2011,” said Michelle Stosich, Family Advocacy Program manager for Wiesbaden Army Community Service.
Reporting by the Department of Defense showed that the combined unrestricted and restricted reports across the military rose by 1 percent from fiscal years 2010 to 2011. In FY 2011, 2,439 unrestricted reports and 753 restricted reports were compiled DoD-wide.
When a victim files an unrestricted report, in addition to providing for care and services to the victim, an investigation is triggered. Restricted reports to specific individuals such as a sexual assault response coordinator, victim advocate and other individuals not in law enforcement or the chain of command allow for the victim to receive care and services while keeping the case confidential and not investigated upon the victim’s request.
“We want victims to reach out and get help, and we want them to be comfortable in reporting,” said Stosich. “Allowing Soldiers (and family members) to make a restricted report of assault is encouragement for them to come forward. We want to maintain confidentiality so that they don’t feel violated twice. Having everyone know that you’ve been raped or assaulted is an inhibitor. … Well-intentioned people can compromise an individual’s confidentiality.
“There’s a lot of visibility in the military,” said Stosich, adding that all members of the Army Family are encouraged to increase their awareness of the threat and to be sensitive to victims. “For people who are sexually assaulted, it is the most traumatic and devastating experience they will ever have.”
“There have been a lot of improvements made. We’ve come a long ways and we’ve still got a ways to go,” said Stosich, about the effort to prevent future assaults.
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Army leaders are stressing that everyone is a potential victim, and it is up to all members of the Army Family to serve as “buddies” in helping protect their friends, family and fellow Soldiers. People must realize that it is not only single females who are victimized, Stosich said, adding that there are additional myths about sexual assault.
“You can become a victim whether you are married or single, on post or off post, in a big community or a small one, whether young or old. Assaults can also come from someone of the same sex. Also, physical strength doesn’t protect you from a brick or someone hiding behind a door. Everyone is at risk.” Another myth is that perpetrators can excuse an assault or rape because a victim was incapacitated due to intoxication.
“It’s difficult because alcohol may play a factor and victims might have difficulty remembering exactly what happened. There’s still a propensity to judge a victim because he or she was drunk or careless,” Stosich said, “but we shouldn’t do that. If somebody is incapacitated due to alcohol, fatigue or drugs, they cannot give consent — by Army regulation.”
That’s why it is critical individuals “communicate respectful boundaries” to avoid making false assumptions and to stay out of trouble, she said. “Seven of the last 10 cases in USAG Wiesbaden were alcohol related.”
Leaders said they can’t stress enough how important it is to use the buddy system, to limit one’s alcohol consumption and to keep an eye out for one other to avoid getting into a dangerous situation.
“You’re most vulnerable when you’re new in the theater,” Stosich said, explaining that not knowing anyone, being unfamiliar with the support system and “being timid about asking for help” are all challenges. “If you see another Soldier out in the community who may be in trouble, do something about it,” Army leaders said.
“We’re a community — it doesn’t matter what our jobs are or what uniforms we wear,” said Stosich. “If you see someone doing something stupid or getting into a dangerous situation, step in, if it’s safe to do so.” That includes encouraging people engaging in high-risk activities or exhibiting high-risk behaviors to speak with someone about it or get involved in safer and healthier activities.
If a sexual assault should occur, Soldiers and their dependents should know that if they seek medical treatment off-post it will wind up as an unrestricted report.
Reporting an assault to a unit victim advocate, Family Advocacy, the military medical clinic, behavioral health or a chaplain allows the victim to make a restricted report. “It’s OK to talk to friends or a buddy, but reporting to the Military Police or chain of command will result in an unrestricted report,” Stosich said.
“The main thing is safety first. Take care of yourself. Preserve evidence if you’re willing to have an examination and get support,” she said. “Please reach out and don’t suffer in silence.”