Program manager advances sexual assault awareness, prevention during pandemic

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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When Bethrece Cheek reported to the Defense Logistics Agency in December as the agency’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program manager, she looked forward to meeting with DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams to help advance the program.

Cheek met Williams her first week and described his support of the SAPR Program as enthusiastic.

“DLA is committed to eradicating sexual assault within the agency and we take it seriously,” she said. “That motivates employees and helps to promote productivity.”

But just as the DLA SAPR team was planning events and activities to support April’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, the coronavirus hit, resulting in stay-at-home orders and mass telework.

Cheek was frustrated at the prospect of not being able to promote SAAPM as planned, yet pleased to know the work order she’d placed to have banners hung, and survivor silhouettes set up in the McNamara Headquarters Complex was accomplished. She said it was important to raise awareness even among the small population of workers in the building that month.

Changes in SAAPM observances weren’t limited to the agency or the Defense Department, Cheek said. In-person activities were cancelled nationwide though organizations such as the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network held some events virtually.

“Normally SAAPM activities involve individuals coming together. Trying to support something like that in this type of environment was really hard,” she said.

Cheek encouraged DLA’s sexual assault response coordinators to promote SAAPM from home, and the SARCs had their own creative plans. DLA Disposition Services SARC Robin Rogers hosted a virtual “chalk the walk” event, encouraging employees to write messages of support for sexual assault survivors on their driveways and neighborhood sidewalks.

Three new SAPR team members also joined the agency; two SARCs reported in April and the SAPR Specialist at the end of May.

“With every crisis of this nature, there’s always a takeaway that I think is important to recognize and use to our advantage,” she said. “Not being able to host the SAAPM events got me thinking that although we key in on April, DLA should do things throughout the year to bring that same level of extra attention.”

The DLA SAPR staff is planning a three-month awareness and prevention campaign that will start in July whether employees are in the office or teleworking. With a “Not Just April” theme, it will feature events that would’ve been held during SAAPM. July will feature a month of Teal Tuesdays, for example, and a virtual fitness challenge will be held in September. In November, employees will be encouraged to wear denim on Fridays to support survivors of sexual assault and raise awareness of sexual violence.

“When we go back to the workplace, we’re not going to be in close proximity, but these events still bring awareness to sexual assault and prevention,” Cheek added.

Although in-person training has been postponed, Cheek said Williams and other DLA senior leaders stress compliance of annual mandatory SAPR training provided through the agency’s Learning Management System.

“Sexual assault prevention will require continuous work, and ensuring we still have training in place is of the utmost importance,” she said, adding that employees should also consider the effects on those forced to shelter in place with their abusers.

“Right now, individuals are home and everyone’s trying to stay safe, but if you’re in an environment where there are instances of interpersonal violence, your safe haven could have been going to work every day,” she continued.

SAPR staff provides 24/7 support.

“They’re continuing to stay in touch with employees in their command,” she said. “We’re here for support and have plans in place to support victims in the event they come forward.”

Cheek added that the SAPR staff encourages a culture of respect that prompts bystanders to stop sexual violence before it happens.

“Everyone has a part to play in this, not just the SARCs,” she said. “I want to get everyone in the mindset of ‘if you see something, say something.’”

She said her team is exploring training that instructs employees and supervisors on how to safely act when they suspect sexual violence.

Sexual assaults can be reported 24/7 via the DLA SAPR Hotline, 1-800-841-0937. Employees can also contact their local SARC. The RAINN website features news on their efforts to end sexual violence, prevention strategies and survivor stories. In emergencies, call 911.