NORFOLK (NNS) (NNS) -- April is Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) month and on board the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) the SAPR team is hard at work helping victims and informing shipmates.
The U.S. Navy is spreading awareness to keep its Sailors safe and this year's theme tackles why standing up against sexual assault is an all-hands effort.
"This year's Department of Defense and Navy theme is 'Eliminating Sexual Assault: Know Your Part. Do Your Part,'" said Chief Culinary Specialist Teschelle Tiongco, George H.W. Bush's command SAPR liaison. "Eliminating sexual assault requires every service member to be a steadfast participant in creating an appropriate culture and upholding our core values."
The SAPR team is comprised of various positions such as the command SAPR command point-of-contact (POC) who oversees the program, and the sexual assault victim advocates who are trained by the POC and are responsible for assisting the victims.
"SAPR is a program that the Navy has come up with to prevent sexual assault within its ranks and community," said Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 1st Class Alvinna Young, a sexual assault victim advocate. "Our job right now is to promote prevention and awareness for our shipmates."
Young said the SAPR program was originally called Sexual Assault Victim Intervention (SAVI), but was established in its current form in response to the Tail Hook Scandal of 1991. This incident, which occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada, during a three-day event for Navy and Marine Corps aviators resulted in the alleged sexual assault of 83 women and seven men. SAPR was established in response to this to give victims of sexual assault more options and access to greater privacy if they wanted to remain anonymous in their reporting.
"The problem with SAVI was that it had no restricted or unrestricted reporting," said Young. "You had to report the incident to NCIS and go to medical. There were no options if the victim wanted to stay private. With the SAPR program, it's victim-friendly. We empower the victim to be able to make choices, and know that they are not the only person who goes through things like this."
Young explained the difference between a restricted report (private) and an unrestricted report (public).
"With a restricted report, the commanding officer is only informed if an event occurred, the chain of command, legal and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) are not notified," said Young. "It's just the victim, the victim advocate, and the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). The chaplain and medical can also become involved in this process. However, the victim is free to change their mind and make it an unrestricted report at any time. If the victim decides to make an unrestricted report, then the legal department, NCIS and the chain of command are all notified."
Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Marlayna Crooms is the duty victim advocate for her duty section while USS George H.W. Bush is in port. She said that when an incident is reported, the victim's comfort is the advocate's number one priority.
"It's all about the victim," said Crooms. "If they feel more comfortable talking to a male or a female, or I know this person and they don't feel comfortable confiding in me, then I'll find them the help they need. I'm responsible for anything that comes up on that day."
Crooms said that because of the nature of the job, being a SAPR victim advocate can be very demanding. She said that SAPR duty always comes first.
"When I tell my chain of command that I have to go, they know I have to go," said Crooms. "SAPR comes before work and watch. When you're committed to being a SAPR victim advocate, that's your most important duty, because they can always get someone else to stand your watch, but there is no one else to be a SAPR advocate."
Although the job can be strenuous, Crooms said being a SAPR advocate is a rewarding job to have.
"It's not your average collateral duty," said Crooms. "It feels good to participate in something that can have such a positive influence in a person's life. It's scary when that call comes in, but it's important to help the victim."
Crooms explained that sexual assault can be a traumatizing experience, but we all have a role to play when it comes to preventing it.
"If you can sense someone is uncomfortable, don't be afraid to step in," said Crooms. "I know that it can be hard to be that person who says 'Stop!' but what we're saying is, 'be that person.' You can ultimately change someone's life."
For more news from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn77/.