JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
The Defense Department released an annual report on sexual assault May 1, 2018. The report showed that during fiscal year 2017, a 9.7 percent increase of victims or subjects reported a sexual assault, compared to 2016.
According to the DoD story announcing the release, the increase in reports comes despite indications that actual assaults are actually down in the last few years, citing the most recent prevalence figures gathered in 2016. That shows that the 9.7 percent increase can likely be attributed to more service members “making the courageous decision to report their experiences and to receive restorative care," according to Elizabeth P. Van Winkle, the executive director of DoD’s Office of Force Resiliency, in a Pentagon media briefing on the day of the release.
When those individuals decide to file report -- whether restricted or unrestricted -- there must be a network of people ready to support them. That network begins with the local Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office and its cadre of volunteer victim advocates. Victim advocates are one of the few service members who can officially receive a restricted report, which opens avenues of support but does not initiate an investigation. VAs also help with outreaches, classes and maintaining the 24/7 hour hotline.
Right now, the JBA SAPR office needs more.
Staff Sgt. Steven Swei, JBA victim advocate and 1st Airlift Squadron flight attendant, says that his role model before him peaked his interest in becoming a VA.
“In the beginning, it was my supervisor,” said Swei. “At that time, my supervisor was a victim’s advocate. I knew what the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator was, but I didn’t know about the victim advocates. He spoke to me about the program and said that I would be helpful because he knew I liked to help people.”
Swei was at his first base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, when he became a VA. Swei received his DoD certificate after completing a 40 hour, week-long training course and a security clearance check. Swei was taught the procedures on Sexual Assault Forensic Exam kits, victimology, and the culture of sexual assault, among other issues.
As a VA, Swei operates within Military Rules of Evidence 514, which allows him to keep information confidential, as long as it doesn’t involve hurting themselves or others.
Swei said that volunteering for this position should solely be motivated by a desire to help others. He said the SAPR team is looking for self-motivated Airmen who will improve upon the team’s efforts to engage with the community.
“The goal is to assist the installation SAPR office supporting the program,” said Kari Merski, JBA SARC.
To apply to be a VA, one year of retainability is required. Those with a background of domestic violence, child abuse or sexual assault will not be considered for a VA position.
Those interested must be E-4, O-2 or GS-7 and above to apply.
If you are interested in applying to become a VA, contact Maria Lee or Kari Merski at 301-981-3449, or 301-981-1443. To learn more about reporting sexual assault and victim assistance, visit the DoD SAPR website.