MILTON, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Air Station Whiting Field is redoubling its efforts to promote awareness, avoidance, and action as it enters National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) this April.
The air station is taking the initiative through appointment of the base's first Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and the launch of innovative outreach techniques.
Base SARC Rachel Phillips joins the Fleet and Family Support Center team with a wealth of experience promoting assault prevention, protection, and education efforts throughout the military.
Her insight into the unique factors complicating this challenge stems from her dual role as a trained victim advocate and a military member. Phillips combines her training in sexual assault prevention, response, and victim advocacy with her experience as a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
"What we do with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program is to hold events to show support for the campaign and raise awareness," Phillips said.
Awareness encompasses more than rote acknowledgement that a problem exists. Phillips emphasizes that unconventional, preemptive thinking is a key to preventing assaults. She cites the phenomenon of sexual assaults by older men against younger servicemen as an example of the type of counter-intuitive threat that makes awareness training valuable and necessary.
Responding to an assault can be as great a challenge as prevention. In many cases, victims do not report assaults because they are not aware of the parameters of behavior considered "sexual assault." In such a case, the victim's lack of information leads to an unpunished offense and an untended victim.
Despite concerted efforts to eradicate destructive behaviors and combat enabling attitudes, sexual assault remains a significant concern to Navy leaders and a grave obstacle to military mission readiness.
"For fiscal year 2010, there were 3,158 total reports to the DoD, and we know that only 40 percent of sexual assaults are reported. That is why we really get into the sexual assault awareness education," Phillips stated.
She stressed that eradication of sexual assault requires an informed and proactive force. Basic human instincts to avoid conflict, criticism, and intrusion are enabling factors that set the stage for sexual assaults to occur. Hostile language, aggressive behavior, or unwanted advances are precursor behaviors that must be recognized and halted by peers before harassment devolves into assault.
"A large push by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program has been bystander intervention. If people see a situation that is disturbing to them, they have a right to intervene," Phillips said.
The importance of positive peer action stems from the circumstances in which sexual assaults take place. Occasions involving alcohol consumption and private gatherings during off-duty hours, outside of command oversight, can create volatile situations.
Peer involvement becomes indispensible when alcohol is present. The Navy Center for Personal and Professional Development SAAM education initiative has emphasized that when alcohol clouds judgment, otherwise upstanding individuals can lose their abilities to discern the limits of acceptable behavior.
Phillips cites the percentage of unreported incidents as evidence that the best defense against dangerous behavior is peer awareness and intervention at the point of conflict. Absent military authorities and trained experts, educated and alert service members are the first line of defense against sexual assault.
The scope of bystander intervention encompasses more than attention to potential offenders; peers must protect friends and colleagues from becoming victims. The Center has declared that the practice of bystander intervention is a key to preventing individuals from placing themselves at risk of sexual assault.
The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, recently declared sexual assault a malignancy that threatens the values, safety, and readiness of Navy forces worldwide.
As a veteran of military service and victim support, Phillips confirms that sexual assault jeopardizes mission readiness.
"[Sexual assault] affects our mission, which is our number one job. It also affects our people, who are critical to mission success.
"When a sexual assault occurs, the member will suffer a severe loss of trust. This undermines their ability to have faith in others, undermines their trust in the command, and can lead to mission failure," Phillips declared.
The Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) has planned a range of activities and outreach efforts to promote the air station's SAAM initiatives.
FFSC brought Catharsis Productions' "Sex Signals" improvisational performance to the base April 4. The show featured realistic language, scenarios, and actions designed to portray the fashion in which casual social engagements can degenerate into assaults. All performers bore complimentary qualifications as professional improvisation actors and trained Sexual Assault Responders.
"'Sex Signals' is very adult, very realistic. This is not another Power Point," Phillips stressed.
"We are one of only five bases in the region to get them, so we're excited by the opportunity," she added.
In addition, FFSC featured a booth and representatives at the University of West Florida's local chapter of "Take Back the Night" April 4. The event was part of a coordinated intercollegiate awareness initiative during the month of April. Outreach organizations, victims' advocates, and student groups offered resources, delivered presentations, hosted discussion groups, and manned booths for the occasion.
Phillips has been engaged with the Department of Defense's campaign against sexual assault since 2004. As a SARC with Fleet and Family Support Centers since 2007, Phillips has a keen understanding of the challenges facing Sailors who encounter sexual assault. She stresses the importance of giving victims immediate unencumbered access to resources.
Victims in military service may choose to make either restricted or unrestricted reports of sexual assaults through local Fleet and Family Support Center SAPR representatives.
Restricted reports allow the victim to retain confidentiality, obtain SAPR support and counseling, receive medical care, and document the incident for a future unrestricted report. Restricted reporting is only possible if the member's chain of command has not learned of the assault.
Unrestricted reports encompass all of the foregoing support but allow criminal investigations to be opened and require the victim to publicly declare the assault. Such reports engage Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the member's chain of command, and possibly local civilian law enforcement agencies. Legal action can be pursued in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and state, local, and federal laws.
Members can seek additional information and support through the base SARC or online at www.sapr.mil. A live telephone option, the DoD Safe Helpline, offers 24-hour, seven-day-per-week services ranging from advice and counseling to direct connection to law enforcement and medical attention.
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response is an important element of the readiness area of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative which consolidates a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, to maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness, build resiliency and hone the most combat-effective force in the history of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Department of the Navy is working to aggressively to prevent sexual assaults, to support sexual assault victims, and to hold offenders accountable.
Help raise awareness by joining the conversation on social media using #SAAM.
For more news from Naval Air Station Whiting Field, visit www.navy.mil/local/naswf/.