Resource Fair educates community on sexual assault

(Left to right:) Staff Sgt. Margaret Stokes, of the 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, and Allison Dwan, a registered nurse and the sexual assault care coordinator for the garrison, talk with Sherry Williams, sexual assault response coordinator for Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, at the Resource Fair held Oct. 12 at McGill Training Center. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

After organizing a morning scavenger hunt to raise awareness about sexual assault, Latrice Washington-Williams thanked a small gathering of service members and DoD civilians for attending a resource fair aimed at combating sexual assault in the military’s ranks.

“Thank you for being here,” said Washington-Williams, the Navy civilian victim advocate for the Cryptologic Warfare Group 6. “We have a host of resources for you this year. … We want to eliminate this treacherous thing called sexual assault.”

For a second straight year, Fort Meade’s Navy Fleet and Family Support Center hosted the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Resource Fair, which was held Oct. 12 at McGill Training Center.

Cryptologic Technician Networks 2 Asante Buzeneswatson, a victim advocate for CWG6, said the fair was important not only for his colleagues, but for ordinary people who may not think about the harm that sexual assault brings.

“It’s still an ongoing problem,” Buzeneswatson said. “It can happen to anyone. If you come here, they can provide you with the resources that victims need.”

Representatives from a wide range of community-based organizations participated in the fair. They included: Fort Meade’s Army Community Service; the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and Behavioral Health Division at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center; Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Police; Mercy Medical Center; House of Ruth Maryland; YWCA of Anne Arundel County; New Hope Treatment Center; and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Most Vulnerable

Rita Robinson, a member of the Human Relations Task Force on Human Trafficking in Prince George’s County, said many of the people who are the victims of human traffickers may have also been sexually assaulted or are the survivors of domestic violence.

Traffickers seek people who are “looking for love and acceptance or are outside of the mainstream,” Robinson said. “They look for people who are vulnerable.”

The Washington-D.C. area, particularly the I-95 corridor, is a “hot bed” for human trafficking, Robinson said.

She said the area’s casinos, football stadiums and convention halls draw thousands of people, which allows human traffickers to “apply their trade.”

Victims of human trafficking, which includes both women and men, are often sexually abused by their traffickers and can be exploited in prostitution.

Robinson said her organization works to train law enforcement on how to investigate these cases and help survivors.

“This is a problem that is hidden in plain sight,” she said.

Although survivors may be afraid to seek help because of threats from their captors, Robinson said a phone call to the National Human Trafficking Hotline can provide an escape and the resources they need.

“Don’t be ashamed. Tell someone,” she said.

Three forensic nurses — Adrianna Cascante, Jane Queen and Jessica Goggins — from Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore came to the event to educate the community about the services they provide to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Mercy Medical Center and Fort Meade have a memorandum of understanding that enables the installation to refer sexual assault and domestic violence survivors to the facility to undergo safe exams and receive other medical care as necessary.

A safe exam allows a forensic nurse to collect DNA and other evidence when a sexual assault or an incident of domestic violence has occurred. The DNA and other evidence are sent from Mercy Medical Center to the Baltimore Police Department’s Forensic Laboratory, which determines the results.

Cascante said the exam should take place within five days of the incident and can be performed even if the survivor has showered or bathed. The exam is a personal choice, she said. Survivors always have the option to say no.

You Can Disclose

Queen said Mercy will keep the evidence from an exam for up to 18 months for any survivor who does not want to report the incident to the police. She said survivors sometimes wait several months before deciding to report an incident and that’s when the facility will send the safe exam to the forensic laboratory.

Goggins said the forensic nurse team works with survivors so they feel comfortable.

“Many people who are sexually assaulted feel that people won’t believe them if they tell someone or seek help,” Goggins said. “When they come in for an exam, we say ‘I believe you.’ ”

Willow Smith, a crisis intervention specialist at the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, said the nonprofit is one of the primary organizations to serve survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence in the county.

Among its services, the YWCA provides a safe house shelter, hospital accompaniment, transitional housing support and abuser intervention training.

“We can’t help people if they don’t know we exist,” Smith said.

She explained that it is important for people who work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to partner with each other to better serve their clientele.

Smith said that for most survivors, their family and friends are likely to be the first people that they may disclose to.

“It’s valuable to disclose so you know that you’re not alone,” Smith said. “But it’s a choice.”

Washington-Williams said that at last year’s resource fair, two women and one man disclosed to a professional that they had been sexually assaulted. One woman was 55 years old and was assaulted 24 years ago while she served in the military.

“I think it was awesome that she felt comfortable enough for her to disclose,” Washington-Williams said. “She was in a safe environment.”

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