Battling sexual assaults is this office's mission

  • Published
  • By Joel Van Nice
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Keesler's sexual assault prevention and response office is responsible for ensuring the integration and coordination of sexual assault victim care services, collaboration with community agencies and prevention education.

The new program manager, Sandra Browne, is a licensed professional counselor with a master's degree in psychology and has 16 years civil service experience in prevention, counseling and management.

The office, located in Locker House, provides many services. According to Browne, a primary focus of the office is to inform and educate Keesler members about risk reduction and prevention through base orientation briefings, leadership training and bystander intervention training.

"A major goal of the program is to promote a cultural shift in the military -- that taking care of your wingmen includes helping them avoid a possible sexual assault by an acquaintance, since seven out of 10 sexual assaults occur between people who know one another," Browne pointed out. "Offenders make up less than 5 percent of the population, so it's up to the other 95 percent to be ready to assist when risky situations occur.

"In operational risk management terms, if a wingman drinking alcohol doesn't appear to be making smart decisions, the risk of being assaulted is significantly increased," she continued. "Manage the risk by helping that wingman to recognize that being alone with another person is a decision best made when sober."

Another important component of the office's mission is the training and management of victim advocates who respond when a sexual assault occurs. The role of these volunteers is to provide ongoing non-clinical support to the victim.

Victim advocates receive initial and ongoing training to assist victims with all aspects of sexual assault and are one of thecategories of personnel who can take a restricted report. If the victim desires to make an unrestricted report of sexual assault, the victim advocate assists the individual throughout the process, even going to court proceedings if requested.

"Anyone who is touched inappropriately should not be afraid to call for help," Browne stressed. "An assault is not the victim's fault and a victim is not the guilty party, despite possible feelings to the contrary." said Browne.

Keesler currently has 50 victim advocates, but there's always a need for more volunteers due to the mobile nature of the military force. For more information about volunteering as a victim advocate, call 377-8635 or e-mail keesler.sarc@us.af.mil.

"We are working to bring nationally recognized experts in this field to Keesler," said Browne.

One of these specialists is Anne Munch, who visits Keesler Oct. 20 to speak to commanders, first sergeants, legal professionals, Air Force Office of Special Investigation, security forces and other first responders. Munch is an attorney with more than 23 years of experience as a career prosecutor and advocate for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

She's worked extensively on the development of the military's sexual assault prevention and response programs.

For military sexual assault victims, there are two reporting options.

Restricted reporting is a confidential reporting option that lifts some of the barriers that can deter military personnel from reporting sexual assault. It allows the assaulted person to receive medical, mental health and all other services without reporting the crime to command or law enforcement officials or initiating the military criminal justice process. Restricted reports can only be taken by health care providers (including counselors), victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators.

Unrestricted reporting initiates a full investigation by security forces and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the assaulted person is reported to the command by name.

The office also provides a 24/7 hotline for sexual assault victims, 377-7278.