April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States. Sexual violence not only affects women, but men as well. The goal of SAAM is to bring awareness and start conversations about how to better protect yourself against sexual violence. It also provides military installations an annual opportunity to highlight Department of Defense and Service policies addressing sexual assault prevention and response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines sexual violence as, “sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given.” These days, sexual assault is not just limited to in person or physical confrontations, but due to the reach of social media websites, the internet has become another weapon in sexual assault of minors and adults. Per DoD Directive 6495.01, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program, sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. While you can never completely protect yourself from someone who may wish to do you harm, here are a few tips, so that you can better protect yourself or someone that you care about.
Carol C. an ex-family crisis counselor from Chicago, IL, mentioned how there are so many distractions these days and that people are not aware of their surroundings like they used to be. It’s easier to get taken advantage of when your face is nose deep in an electronic device. Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or spousal relationship or age of victim. She offered a few of these tips.
1) Be aware of your surroundings. If you have a cell phone or an Ipod, try to avoid having both earphones in your ears. If you don’t know where you are going, walk with confidence anyway, and avoid walking and texting.
2) Go to social gatherings with a friend. If you arrive with your friend, don’t leave without your friend. The Marine’s motto is “Semper Fi.” You can use it too. It means to stay loyal. Stay loyal to the friends you went to a party with. If your friend gets too intoxicated to stay at the party, take them home. Leave no one behind.
3) Don’t leave your drink unattended. An old school trick to keep your drink safe, was to place a napkin over your cup, to help alert you if someone is trying to place something in your drink. If you walk away from your drink for any reason, just get a new one.
4) Think before sending/posting that risque picture. It may seem like a good idea at the time, but if you have a sexy picture to show someone, unless you trust them completely, just offer to show them in person instead of sending it or posting it online.
5) Don’t be careless about your location on the internet. Using the ‘check in’ option on applications such as Facebook, to let others know where you are, can also give someone vital information about your home. Not only is it saying that your residence might be free to invade, but an attacker could be waiting for you to make your grand re-entrance back home. Feel free to post your whereabouts after the event is already over.
6) Let someone know that you’re coming or going. Give a quick call ahead to let someone know that you’re on the way or to let them you know that you arrived safely at your destination.
7) Trust your gut. How many times do you wish you would’ve listened to your first mind? Start listening to it. If an environment, situation, or person, does not feel right to you, then exit, stage left or right, whatever the case may be. Just get out of there.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, it’s not too late to talk to someone about it.
1) Call 877-995-5247 or text a location or zip code to 55-247 (within CONUS) or 202-470-5546 (OCONUS) or online chat with a counselor at www.SafeHelpline.org 24 hours a day or contact your local Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Victim Advocate (VA) or healthcare provider.
2) Anyone who is entitled to care in a military treatment facility is eligible for medical care following a sexual assault. Seek medical care as soon as possible. In addition to treatment through the MTF, military dependents can also seek care at a civilian hospital. Even if you do not have any visible physical injuries, you may be at risk of becoming pregnant or acquiring a sexually transmitted disease. Ask the healthcare provider to conduct a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE) to preserve forensic evidence. If you suspect you had been drugged, request that a urine sample be collected.
3) Preserve all evidence of the assault. Do not bathe, wash your hands, eat or drink or brush your teeth. Do not clean or straighten up the crime scene.
Don’t feel limited to strictly on base resources. Other options available include; pursuing a law enforcement investigation of the assault, contact the Family Advocacy Program or Children’s Protective Services if the sexual assault involves a minor, contact a civilian rape crisis program, or social work services.
Sexual assault and harassment is a violation to our own civil rights. Don’t allow the evil intentions of one person or a group of people render you helpless. Use the resources available to do the job they were intended to do.