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April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

D.C. Air National Guard members stand at the finish line after running in the Joint Base Andrews Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 5K Color run Apr. 1, 2015.  The DCANG "Capital Guardians" supported the event to raise awareness of sexual assault in the military and help eliminate it once and for all.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Craig Clapper)

D.C. Air National Guard members stand at the finish line after running in the Joint Base Andrews Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 5K Color run Apr. 1, 2015. The DCANG "Capital Guardians" supported the event to raise awareness of sexual assault in the military and help eliminate it once and for all. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Craig Clapper)

Staff Sgt. Jakenda Murray, 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, crosses the finish line after running in the Joint Base Andrews Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 5K Color run Apr. 1, 2015.  Murray supported the event to raise awareness of sexual assault in the military and help eliminate it once and for all.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Craig Clapper)

Staff Sgt. Jakenda Murray, 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, crosses the finish line after running in the Joint Base Andrews Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 5K Color run Apr. 1, 2015. Murray supported the event to raise awareness of sexual assault in the military and help eliminate it once and for all. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Craig Clapper)

Airman 1st Class Kourtney Marah, 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, shows off the shiny teal color in her hair after running in the Joint Base Andrews Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 5K Color run Apr. 1, 2015.  Marah supported the event to raise awareness of sexual assault in the military and help eliminate it once and for all.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Craig Clapper)

Airman 1st Class Kourtney Marah, 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, shows off the shiny teal color in her hair after running in the Joint Base Andrews Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 5K Color run Apr. 1, 2015. Marah supported the event to raise awareness of sexual assault in the military and help eliminate it once and for all. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Craig Clapper)

Defense Department officials today launched the Pentagon’s newest initiative to support victims of sexual assault. (SAPR illustration)

Defense Department officials today launched the Pentagon’s newest initiative to support victims of sexual assault. (SAPR illustration)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- This year's Department of Defense Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month theme is "Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part. Do Your Part." What does this mean to you? Every service member, at every level in our military, must know, understand and adhere to their service core values and standards of behavior in order to eliminate sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior. Each of us has a unique role in preventing and responding to sexual assault. We must recognize our part in stopping this crime starting with our own awareness and knowing when and where to intervene. We must act! If we see a crime or inappropriate behavior unfolding, we must step in to prevent it. Each is us need to add our voice to the call to end this heinous crime.

In the Fiscal Year 2014 Department of Defense Report to the President of the United States Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Report, President Obama stated "There is no silver bullet to solving this problem. This is going to require sustained effort over a long period of time and we will not stop until we've seen this scourge eliminated." With leadership engagement from the top-down, much progress has been made toward eliminating sexual assault and helping sexual assault victims receive the assistance needed. Leadership and service members alike also acknowledge the need for continued growth, persistence, and innovation in eradicating sexual assault from the ranks.

What does the data tell us? According to the 2014 Workplace and Gender Relations (WGR) Survey, in Fiscal Year 2013 there was a 50 percent increase in sexual assault reporting from 2012, and 2014 reporting maintained that gain and increased another 8 percent. Just two years ago only one in 10 victims were reporting, that rate has increased to one in four. Increased reporting tells us not only is there a growing trust of command and confidence in the response system, but also that more victims are provided with support and a greater number of offenders are being held appropriately accountable.

Military commanders hold the responsibility for establishing a climate that promotes honor, discipline, respect and integrity. "The Air Force Core Values really set the stage for every organization in the Air Force and I don't think they can be improved. Mission First, people always, have fun. We need to create a healthy, supportive, resilient wing; make it a place people WANT to come to work. This will help our retention, and allow us to accomplish even more," said Brig. Gen. Degnon, 113th Wing commander.

In addition, it is important for all services members to know and understand the two sexual assault reporting options and who members can report a sexual assault to. A Restricted Report is confidential and an investigation is not initiated. The survivor can access healthcare, advocacy services and legal services without notification to command or law enforcement. Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC), Victim Advocates (VA), Director of Psychological Health (DPH) and healthcare professionals who administer the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) kits can take a Restricted Report.

When making an Unrestricted Report, both command and law enforcement are notified immediately. Commanders, supervisors in the victim's chain of command, law enforcement, legal personnel all are required to make an Unrestricted Report. At any time, a survivor who has made a Restricted Report can convert to Unrestricted. In Fiscal Year 2014, 19 percent of Restricted Reports received converted to Unrestricted Reports, more than any prior year (WGR, 2014). Members in any status can make a Restricted Report or Unrestricted Report, but services may be limited depending on their status at the time of the assault. If at any time more guidance is needed, contact a SARC or VA.

An additional and confidential resource that victims can utilize to report a sexual assault is the DOD Safe Helpline (877-995-5247), which provides anonymous, confidential support 24/7. This chat service provides survivors in the military the support needed in a safe environment and also allows them to connect with other survivors of sexual assault. The helpline can also assist members who may have a friend that has been assaulted and what they can do to help them. Visit https://safehelpline.org for more information.

Degnon also stated, "Eliminating sexual assault from the military is absolutely essential. Aside from it being a criminal act; it erodes unit cohesion, trust and mission effectiveness. As the military continues to get smaller and tasked with more; our focus needs to be on mission accomplishment. We do not have the resources to fight the enemy within while training / fighting the outside enemy."

The responsibility falls on each and every one of us to ensure a safe, respectful, and professional environment. As said by General Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force during the 2013 Sexual Assault in the Military Senate Armed Services Committee, "You are either part of the solution or part of the problem; there is no neutral position." Together - we can eliminate Sexual Assault. Know your part and do your part.