FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
An American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Cases at the Defense Logistics Agency are far lower than the national average and even those of the military services, and Beth Cheek credits that to agency’s strong focus on prevention.
“Our sexual assault prevention efforts begin with awareness and include training to ensure employees know what meets the definition of sexual assault and how it differs from sexual harassment. DLA team members know sexual assault offenders in our agency are held accountable and victims have our full support,” said the program manager for DLA’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and the theme is “Step forward. Prevent. Report. Advocate.” Cheek and her staff of nine sexual assault response coordinators spread across DLA are hosting events such as the 2nd Annual Teal Ribbon Relay, lunch-and-learn sessions focusing on topics like civil treatment in the workplace and male sexual assault, as well as observance of National Denim Day to show solidarity for survivors.
“This annual observance and our SAPR Program are key to prevention. Without them, we open ourselves to unhealthy behaviors occurring within our organization,” Cheek said.
About 15 cases occurred annually throughout the agency before the pandemic. The number dropped significantly in 2020 and 2021 as most employees teleworked, although Cheek said that doesn’t mean sexual assaults aren’t occurring while employees work in authorized telework spaces.
Impacts of sexual assault for survivors and the organization can include low morale, reduced productivity, increased absences, lack of trust, high employee turnover, and physical and emotional trauma. DLA sexual assault response coordinators ensure victims receive responsive care and support from the initial report through case closure.
“Our DLA SARCS are key to the SAPR program functioning at such high quality, and they’re some of the most skilled and selfless individuals I’ve worked with,” Cheek said.
Victims’ first contact with a SARC is often through the DLA SAPR Hotline at 1-800-841-0937.
“That first contact is a very critical time because that’s when the SARC establishes a relationship that helps survivors know the SARC is trustworthy,” she said. “Of course they have training and credentials, but it’s those interpersonal skills and their compassion that allow them to make a connection where the survivor feels comfortable and secure.”
While it can be easy to think sexual assault only happens to other people, Cheek said it can happen to anyone at any age at any time.
“It could be your sister or your child if not you. An assault shouldn’t have to actually occur for employees to feel like it’s an important issue, because then we’re in a reactive mode rather than preventative,” she said.
Information on reporting options, the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault, links to SARCS and more are available on the DLA SAPR page at dla.mil. Employees should watch their email for information on scheduled SAAPM events.