Victim advocates: Always an ally
MISAWA AIR BASE - Hopelessness sets in as she sits alone on a sanitary white hospital bed and reflects on the moment her dignity and self-worth were stolen from her. As she mentally scans the list of individuals she can turn to for help, she decides to call the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.
In a matter of minutes, the door opens to reveal the kind, compassionate face of a woman as she peers in and asks to come inside the room. She introduces herself, sits down and begins to calmly comfort the victim. Within minutes, they come up with a tentative plan on what steps to take next and she starts to feel in control of her life again.
Tech. Sgt. Charity Grant, 35th Force Support Squadron Grissom Dining Facility manager, experienced this firsthand as a victim advocate.
"I have a drive to assist people and see how one human being can make a difference," said Grant.
Grant said she is motivated every day by the resilience witnessed in victims of sexual assault.
"A crime against the body is the worst type of crime," said Grant. "Someone could steal my car and I could replace it. Someone could vandalize my house and I could fix it. But once you violate my body, it's always going to be violated. It gives me strength to see someone go through something so traumatic and deal with it with a positive attitude."
Grant said she was inspired to become a victim advocate while she was an Airman Leadership School instructor in 2013.
"I had a lot of students who were victims of sexual assault," Grant said. "Because sexual assault prevention and response training is part of the ALS curriculum, I decided to go through the training to better facilitate and assist our students."
It started as something that just made sense and developed into a genuine, selfless passion for others. By definition, SARC victim advocates provide non-clinical crisis intervention and on-going support. They are a confidential outlet for people who are victims of sexual assault to ensure victims are able to talk to the SARC without feeling like what is discussed will be used against them.
Petty Officer 1st Class Justin McCray, Navy Munitions Command East Asia Division Unit Misawa ordnanceman and victim advocate, took a slightly different path to becoming a victim advocate, but kept the same approach.
"We're not here to judge them, we're here to help and support them," said McCray. "We want to let them know, first and foremost, that they're not alone and we won't violate their trust. They don't need to be ashamed to ask for help."
Victim advocates aim to be wingmen from the beginning until the end of the reporting process. They are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide aid to any sexual assault victims in need. They immediately respond to calls and meet the victim at the hospital.
"As service members, we're often far from home and not near immediate family, so being able to contact a victim advocate prevents you from being alone no matter where you are," Grant said.
Advocates are trained to treat victims of sexual assault with dignity and respect, providing the quickest access to medical treatment and services possible.
"VA training provides very helpful information, but nothing is quite like interacting with a victim," Grant said. "The real test comes when you're in that situation."
One victim of sexual assault who Grant helped had the word "survivor" tattooed on her wrist as a way of showing she made it through a horrible experience and came out of it with a positive outlook.
"You become their buddy or wingman as they go through this process," McCray said. "We make sure they're aware of their reporting options. At the same time, you're not a legal assistant or a doctor, so we don't give any specific advice, but instead guide them in the right direction."
VAs are responsible for a variety of additional duties besides interacting with sexual assault victims including manning information tables, posting signs for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and training. All these are designed to create a sense of awareness in the community and prevent sexual assaults from happening.
"Sexual assault affects all military branches and it cuts to the core of our camaraderie," said McCray. "It's imperative to get the word out and to stand up for each other and intervene when needed. If one person hurts, the whole base hurts."
Victim advocates come from a variety of places and are motivated by different experiences, but they all take the role of kind-hearted supporters who are there solely to support victims of sexual assault.
"At the end of the day, all I can say is I've done my best," Grant said. "I was there when they needed to talk, or just when they needed someone to listen. For me, knowing I helped someone is a success."
For more information, or to learn how to become a victim advocate, contact the SARC office at 226-7271/7273.