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New SARC + SAPR upgrades = Zero tolerance

Special Victims' Counsel provides sexual assault victims legal assistance.

Special Victims' Counsel provides sexual assault victims legal assistance.

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program reinforces the Air Force's commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual assault through awareness and prevention training, education, victim advocacy, response, reporting and accountability. The Air Force promotes sensitive care and confidential reporting for victims of sexual assault and accountability for those who commit these crimes.

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program reinforces the Air Force's commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual assault through awareness and prevention training, education, victim advocacy, response, reporting and accountability. The Air Force promotes sensitive care and confidential reporting for victims of sexual assault and accountability for those who commit these crimes.

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- In the face of any unwanted sexual advance, assertively saying "no," is an inalienable human right. When someone's ability to give consent is impaired by intoxication, sleep or handicap; or someone is coerced, bribed or forced into a sexual situation, their power gets taken away.

When a Team Andrews member reports such an atrocity, Andrea Verdino, Andrews new Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), can step in to protect and empower victims.

Verdino has been fighting against sexual assault since graduating from Montgomery County, Md. Police Academy in 2000. She is steeped in experience working with the family crimes unit; child abuse; pedophile and domestic violence cases.

In 2009, she was the SARC and victim advocate program manager at Fort Myer, Md., and also worked with the Navy at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Md. Her experience in investigations extends beyond the first SAPR policy issued in Oct. 2005.

The latest changes in the Department of Defense instruction 6495.02 have increase victim advocacy training and make SAPR more accessible to members of the Reserve and Guard, as well as dependents.

Victim advocates are required to complete an initial 40 hours of training and become credentialed. The upgraded standards ensure first responders are qualified and prepared to handle individual sensitive circumstances.

"The credentialing process includes a background investigation," Verdino said. "I must interview each prospective victim advocate. Then, I obtain letters of recommendation signed by myself and their commander and send their information to the National Organization for Victims Assistance (NOVA) to run a background and sex offender registry check. NOVA has a board that meets quarterly to determine whether or not the applicant is able to become credentialed."

Victim advocates are also required to complete 32 hours of refresher training every two years.

"I currently offer two hours a month of training," Verdino said.

Since becoming JBA's SARC, Verdino said she has trained victim advocates on the new changes in the DoD-I and how to fill out new forms. She also plans to hold self-care classes.

"We plan to set up a self-care class like Zumba or cross fit;" Verdino said. "We would also like members from the Office of Special Investigations, legal and security forces to have a dodge-ball competition to bring us together."

Verdino's self-care class falls in line with the new DoD SAPR self-care smart phone app that allows anyone to assess their overall health and create an individualized anonymous self-care plan, Verdino said.

The app connects users with the Safe Helpline by phone or chat, gives local resources and more.

Organizations involved with SAPR reporting lead trainings as well, Verdino said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity office, the Department of Veteran's Affairs, Prince George Hospital and the newly mandated Special Victims Counsel will participate in the upcoming training sessions.

"The Air Force now has a Special Victims' Counsel, which is a huge benefit," Verdino said. "The SVC provides an attorney for the victim. Whether reports are restricted [confidential] or unrestricted, victims have been taking this option to have their own personal attorney go with them to the Office of Special Investigations. The SVC can walk them through the legal process and answer any legal questions regarding collateral misconduct, such as underage drinking and fraternization."

Another change which can help empower victims by keeping them informed on the status of their case is the new case management group.

"Here, the group is chaired by Col. Daniel Waters [11th Wing/JBA vice commander], the victims commander and myself," she said. "We are required to hold monthly case management meetings. Those who file unrestricted reports will be able to meet with their commander one-on-one, 72 hours after the meeting is held for a status update."

Air Force wide, the SAPR program is now much more inclusive.

"Dependents of military members are now able file restricted reports," Verdino said. "We have also been able to provide restricted reporting service to Reservists and National Guard members in off-duty status."

Previously, if guard and reservists were not active at the time of the assault, their only option was to file an unrestricted report, which automatically triggers an investigation. Now these members can be put in a line-of-duty status; enabling them to receive medical exams and counseling with anonymity, she said.

Being empowered to say "no" is everyone's right. If that right is wrongfully taken, service members can rely on the evolving SAPR program and JBA's new SARC to keep them informed, protected and empowered.

In the event of an emergency, members can call the 24-hour hotline at 301-981-7272. For non-emergencies, the JBA SARC can be reached at 301-981-1443.

For further information on the latest changes to the SAPR program, visit http://www.sapr.mil/.