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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The goal is to combat sexual assault aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany by providing more information and resources. (Courtesy photo)

Photo by Michelle Stevens

Sexual assault awareness, prevention key to mission readiness

20 Apr 2021 | Jennifer Parks, Public Affairs Specialist Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The goal is to combat sexual assault aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany by providing more information and resources.

The objective is to protect base personnel and their dependents, ensuring tasks critical to the mission are accomplished.

Santricia Mercer, victim advocate, MCLB Albany, said there is 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week helpline to report cases of child abuse. She acts as the go-between for victims and the court system.

“We are rebuilding and revamping the program and letting people know we are on the installation,” Mercer said.

Child Abuse Prevention Month is also recognized in April.

Michelle Stevens, sexual assault response coordinator, MCLB Albany, states she is very humbled to serve as an advocate for both men and women who faithfully serve their country.

She said sexual assault is a heinous crime of zero tolerance in the uniformed services, including Department of Defense civilians and/or government contractors. Each person has a responsibility to themselves and others to step-up and take a stand and is a part of the movement for change against sexual assault.                                                                                                                            

Stevens said there are teams of uniformed victim advocates, known as sexual assault prevention and response victim advocates, attached to MCLB Albany who are often the initial point of contact when cases are reported.

She said there are two types of reports, “restricted” and “unrestricted.” An unrestricted report means victims will get command’s notification and support, law enforcement investigations. They are also entitled to forensic and medical treatment, mental health counseling, and are assigned a Sexual Assault Prevention Response victim advocate and given victim legal counsel services. Stevens said, in addition, the victim can request an expedited transfer and a military protective order.

Restricted reporting is for victims who wish to confidentially disclose the incident without triggering a formal investigation involving the command and law enforcement. The victim is entitled to receiving ongoing SAPR services such as medical treatment and forensic exams, mental health counseling and VLC support. In addition, the victim will be assigned a SAPR VA for duration of the case and will also receive support from the SARC as needed.

“The command and law enforcement are not involved, nor are they eligible for an expedited transfer or a military protective order,” Stevens said of the restricted reporting process. “However, the victim may choose to change their reporting status from ‘Restricted’ to ‘Unrestricted’ reporting at any time.”

Stevens said SAPR services are available to active-duty service members, beneficiaries and civilians attached to the base. 

SARP VAs for MCLB Albany and Marine Corps Logistics Command are credentialed by the DOD and serve as subject matter experts. The SAPR VAs for MCLB Albany are Gunnery Sgt. Stephanie Cochrane, Staff Sgt. Eusebio Rodriquez, Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Garza, Staff Sgt. Edjunique Morman, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Flowers, Maj. Mark Phelps, Staff Sgt. Lesa King, Gunnery Sgt. Ian Jones and Staff Sgt. Caleb Edwards.

Stevens said MCLB Albany has a 24/7 SAPR support line phone and it is connected to the DOD Safe Helpline. The support line phone rotates weekly as assigned between the MCLB Albany SAPR VAs. A SAPR VA should answer, but if not, a call back must be received within 15 minutes of a missed call.

Even when calls are missed they are rolled over to the DOD Safe Helpline, she added.

“At any time, any victim can call,” Stevens said.  “If they don’t want support from a SAPR VA, they can come to me no matter what. They can always call us. No appointment is needed.”

Cases involving civilian adult victims with no other military connections apart from their employment can get immediate intervention through MCLB’s SAPR SARC, and are referred to other resources within the local community.

“It is up to the victim if they want the resources and services but I am always there to support,” Stevens said.

As sexual assault awareness is a continual effort, training opportunities are offered throughout the year for both active-duty and civilian personnel at MCLB Albany. All SAPR training sessions focuses on prevention and intervention methods, such as signs to watch out for when someone may be at risk of sexual assault and steps to take when they witness an incident taking place.

“All SAPR training covers the roles and responsibilities, education and support and how it affects the unit,” Stevens explained. “It also emphasizes what happens when personnel reporting sexual assault are not supported.”

Such resources and training are vital in that they protect mission readiness.

“The SAPR training teaches Marines how to advocate for themselves, how peers can advocate for themselves, and how to reduce sexual assault in the Marine Corps,” Stevens continued. “It helps them to learn trust and unity, and what happens when there is a failure to report.”

“If their leaders advocate for what is right, they will feel comfortable going to them, she added. “Sexual assault can affect mission readiness depending on how it is handled. It should be handled so it will not impact the morale of the unit or the lives or any civilian personnel within the workplace.”

Marine Corps and Navy personnel, in decades prior, have made it known their voices had not been heard when reporting incidents of sexual assault. Times have changed.

“This directly affected readiness and support,” Stevens said. “Efforts are being made to improve the culture and it has made a difference.”

A courageous action of reporting and standing up against sexual assault empowers and leads to cultural movements and DOD policy changes.

“The SAPR program, in a nutshell, is to ensure safety for all, that no one is alone,” she added.           

The base’s SARP is housed within the chapel annex. Services can be utilized by retired military and all military dependents. Active-duty service members on or off post can still report incidents.

The SAPR support line carried by the base and MARCORLOGCOM SAPR VAs can be reached at 229-881-3883.  For support related to child abuse or domestic incidents, call 229-639-5252 or 229-347-2651 (after hours). Stevens can be reached for additional information at 229-639-5602 or 229-854-8805.

Battling the problem of assault and abuse also involves prevention.

“We not only respond to cases of child abuse and domestic abuse, but we (Family Advocacy Program/Marine and Family Programs) have counseling available prior to aid in the prevention of such,” Mercer said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III announced in February the establishment of an independent review commission on sexual assault, the DOD recently announced. According to its charter, the commission is focusing on evaluating military policies, programs and processes related to sexual assault. It is also reviewing and assessing best practices from industry, academia and other organizations. The commission is generating recommended policy changes and proposals to improve prevention efforts.

It includes working groups focused on each of four lines of effort, including accountability, prevention, climate and culture and victim care and support.  The commission will report to Austin and President Joseph Biden.

The DOD Safe Helpline provides free, confidential support for military-affiliated sexual assault victims on a 24/7 basis. It can be reached at 877-995-5247.

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany