Agency program advocates for victims of sexual assault

By Dianne Ryder

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and the Department of Defense strives to create a culture focused on eliminating sexual violence and increasing accountability among civilians and military members.

Early in his tenure as Defense Logistics Agency director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Andy Busch established a sexual assault and prevention and response program in DLA Human Resources. And during the March 8 DLA Executive Board meeting, he was the first to sign DLA’s 2017 Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month Proclamation.

“Sexual assault is a societal issue … it’s not just a DoD issue,” said Renée Ferranti, DLA SAPR program manager. “Whether it’s something that physically happens at the workplace or something that happens to an individual who works here, it’s going to impact the mission.”

Busch granted Ferranti the authority to hire trained professionals throughout the agency when she arrived in August 2015. She now supervises nine SAPR coordinators, such as Andrea Verdino, who like Ferranti has also worked for law enforcement.

DLA SAPR coordinators focus on client care, victim advocacy and awareness. They manage and track cases through the administrative process and in some cases the criminal justice system. “The intent is prevention, but we do have active cases throughout the organization,” Ferranti said.

SAPR coordinators help victims find counseling and medical treatment. They can also help victims file an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, or criminal charges in the case of sexual assault.

Verdino said an assault does not need to be recent for the staff to help. “Whether it just happened or if it’s something that happened 10, 15 or 20 years ago, they might need some type of resource or assistance,” she said.

Ferranti said some victims feel a stigma in being a survivor of sexual assault, and some fear using the term “assault.”

“We often hear someone say, ‘sexual harassment,’ because they feel like it’s a safer term,” she said. “I’ll ask, ‘Do you mean sexual assault?’ just to be sure, because there sometimes is a fine line between sexual assault and sexual harassment, and we want to provide the correct resources and information.”

Ferranti added that victims of sexual assault might blame themselves.

“Maybe the victim feels they allowed this to happen, that maybe there were red flags,” she said. “If the situation escalates, they may feel they should have done something sooner.”

Building trust, especially when working with law enforcement, can be hard for victims. SAPR coordinators are critical in helping a victim through this difficult process.

“Our ultimate goal is to support an individual who has been traumatized by sexual violence,” Ferranti said.

DLA SAPR coordinators seek to work with others in the military community. Verdino referred to local fitness events such as “Walk the lap around the Pentagon,” and a 5K race at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, where they maintain a presence and distribute resource materials.

“We also do outreach with civilian resources,” Ferranti said. “All the SARCs at the PLFAs connect with their service branch counterparts, but we also connect with the local agencies that provide care for victims,” such as rape, crisis, and trauma centers and even the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We work with the VA because they have special programs focused on military sexual trauma,” she said.

The team also works with hospitals and personnel who perform forensic exams of sexual assault victims.

The following McNamara Headquarters Complex events will raise awareness about preventing sexual assault:

 

  • Teal Tuesdays, an outreach event in the HQC cafeteria with information for military members and civilians, such as the DoD Safe Helpline and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network;
  • Providing a SAPR information card with all saplings handed out by DLA Installation Support during the annual Earth Day observance;
  • A virtual physical fitness challenge, “Going the Distance for SAPR,” in which DLA employees across the enterprise can log various activities to score points;
  • Using teal ribbons, representing sexual assault victims, to decorate a white tree; and
  • Displays of survivor silhouettes, with quotes from sexual assault survivors.