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Victim advocates help people, make program successful

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, formerly known as the Victim Support Liaison, is in full swing here. The program wouldn’t be able to succeed without victim advocates. 

“Victim advocates do a bulk of the work,” said Jeanine Arnold, 21st Space Wing sexual assault response coordinator. “They respond to the victims after I receive a call. They are there to provide a kind, compassionate and caring response to sexual assault victims. They also let victims know what they can expect from the new system.”

Master Sgt. Tammie Wilson, 21st SW sensor manager’s superintendent, said her job is to help victims with anything they need. “The victim’s well-being is what comes first,” she said.

The victim advocates go through a five-day training course on their duties.

“The training was very emotional at times,” Sergeant Wilson said. “We learned that in order to be a good advocate we have to be able to keep our emotions in check. You have to keep yourself emotionally healthy in order to provide help to the victims.”

Advocates also have to try and put themselves in victims’ shoes.

“It certainly opens your eyes to how one incident can change a person’s entire life,” said Capt. Liz Nieboer, Detachment 4, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center test analyst. “We went through facts about sexual assault, personal experiences, how the police deal with responses and we did a lot of role playing during the training course.”

The SAPR program is designed to provide effective prevention and response programs addressing sexual assault and other areas pertaining to human relations and interpersonal violence. It also provides commanders with a resource to assist in the ongoing effort to instill respect and the Air Force core values throughout the Air Force.

“It’s unfortunate that we need a program like this, but I think the Air Force has done a great job of recognizing that sexual assault victims need a program where they can get help,” Sergeant Wilson said.

Although there have been former programs, this one has one big difference from the others.

“The Air Force has always had some means of dealing with sexual assault cases, but the biggest change with this new program is the restricted reporting,” Ms. Arnold said. “Restricted reporting is an option people can use in case they don’t want anything to be made public. In order for members to get restricted reporting, people must call the SARC first.”

Victim advocacy is not an Air Force specialty performed by a med-tech. Victim advocates are all volunteers who choose to help the program.

“I do this because I always think that people come first. I don’t like seeing people suffer at the hands of someone else,” Sergeant Wilson said.

Sergeant Wilson feels that her troops are like her children. She said the program reassures her that if one of them come to her for help, she will be able to get them what they need.

“The program is only going to work if it is used as it’s designed,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to use it.”