Garrison recognizes victim advocates

Sgt. 1st Class Christina Pearson, the garrison’s sexual assault response coordinator, reads the certificates of appreciation presented to Victim Assistance Program Analyst Elizabeth Blanc (left) and Oversight Program Analyst Anita Boyd from the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. (Photos by Daniel Kucin Jr.)

Fort Meade’s victim advocates often go beyond the call of duty to help survivors of sexual assault.

That’s what Sgt. 1st Class Christina Pearson, the garrison’s sexual assault response coordinator, explained after 30 victim advocates received certificates of appreciation at a luncheon held in their honor at McGill Training Center on Tuesday afternoon.

“A lot of the units don’t see what goes on when victim advocates are up at 2 o’clock in the morning, sitting with a victim,” Pearson said. “I wanted to let them know how much [Garrison Commander] Col. [Tom] Rickard and I appreciate all that they do.”

Pearson organized the 90-minute event, which was sponsored by the Fort Meade Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators from Fort Meade’s tenant organizations enjoyed a lunch of chicken wings, salad, sandwiches, fruit and cake catered by Nando’s Peri-Peri Portugese Restaurant at Arundel Mills.

“It’s rewarding to know that we can make a small difference in someone’s life and connect them with resources that they may not have known about,” said Amanda Cardone-Luyben, a civilian SARC and victim advocate for the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing. “It’s an honor to be trusted in that role — to support someone when it is not comfortable for them to do so.”

Anita Boyd, oversight program analyst, and Elizabeth Blanc, victim assistance program assistant, from the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in Alexandria, Va., served as the guest speakers.

Boyd shared the history of how the DoD established the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in 2005 after former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld learned about incidents of sexual assault in Iraq and Kuwait.

Rumsfeld called for a review of the DoD process for the treatment and care of victims of sexual assault in the military.

The Fort Meade garrison recognizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month at an appreciation luncheon Tuesday afternoon honoring 30 victim advocates at McGill Training Center.

SAPRO now serves as the DoD’s “single point of authority for sexual assault policy and provides oversight to ensure that each of the services’ programs complies with DoD policy,” according to its website.

SAPRO’s mission is to “enable military readiness and reduce — with a goal to eliminate — sexual assault from the military.”

Blanc discussed SAPRO’s current efforts to assess the issue of male victims of sexual assault.

According to a 2014 Rand Military Workplace study, “We have a problem with men who experience sexual assault in the military,” Blanc said.

The study found that compared to women, men are more likely to experience acts of sexual assault, which can include elements of hazing/bullying meant to humiliate or degrade the individual.

As a result, SAPRO released the “Plan to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Assault of Men” last October.

Medical, legal and advocacy representatives from all five military services are currently meeting in working groups to prepare a report on recommendations and action steps.

In addition, SAPRO will launch an online peer support component of its Safe Helpline for male victims of sexual assault. Safe Helpline provides live one-on-one specialized support and information that is confidential, anonymous and secure.

Blanc said gearing a component of the Safe Helpline to men may help male victims “empower each other to take the next step” and seek help.

Sgt. 1st Class Qusim Challenger, a victim advocate for the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, said it felt “really good” to be recognized for his efforts.

“Making people aware of the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program is about helping people to trust the program,” Challenger said. “Instilling that trust in Soldiers is one of the hardest things to do as a victim advocate.

“When they trust you in their time of need, that’s a win for the military.”

Sgt. 1st Class Rashid Keitt, sexual assault response coordinator for the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade who works with two full-time victim advocates, said the luncheon gave SARCs and advocates a chance to get to know each other and bond.

“It helps to see other victim advocates who are going through the same things and to know that someone cares for them,” he said.

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