Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
In the military, sexual assault response coordinators, uniformed victim advocates and victim advocates are the first line of defense for individuals who become victims of sexual assault. They are trained to provide all the necessary resources to victims after an assault occurs, with care and consideration. The training they receive to become SARCs, UVAs and VAs is administered by the National Organization for Victim Assistance, which is accredited and approved by the Department of Defense.
“SARCs must have a certain amount of experience in the field before they can even apply for the job,” said Jennifer Husung, the Combat Center’s installation sexual assault response coordinator. “You have to have at least three years of experience in the field and you have to have a degree in or related to social sciences or behavioral health and on top of that, they are required to go through training that not only teaches them a prescribed way to be an advocate, but also how to serve as an advocate in the Marine Corps.”
A VA or UVA provides information and support to the victim, Husung said. They give the victim one-on-one support and are a person in the unit that looks out for the victim from a military stand point. The VA is that one person who can be with them every step of the way through out all of the necessary processes. They are there to support the victim without judgment. They are there to provide that victim with all the information they need to, drive their train. The victim has been violated and may not know what they need to do to get help so, it’s the advocates job to build that report with them, hear what it is that they truly do need and to help get them to the right people that will get the through the recovery process. The VA will sometimes take the victim to counseling or to NCIS which can be very sensitive. They even go with them to their article 32 when that victim may be seeing their accused for the first time. These things can be really scary so (the VAs) job is to, essentially, be there for them. SARCs are advocates as well. But in addition, they coordinate the installation's entire Sexual Assault Response Program and advise the commanding general on how to run the program.
“The training that the SARCs and advocates now go through is relatively new,” Husung said. “It not only further trains already very qualified people in victim advocacy, but it is specifically geared toward assisting victims in the military.”
It's up to the SARC to pave the way so that when an incident occurs, there is smooth sailing. It's all ready traumatic enough. So, we get rid of the barriers that get in the way so that the victims aren't re-victimized. We coordinate all of the services.
The Department of Defense Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program is 40 hours of DOD approved victim advocacy training which is specific to the needs of military members who have been sexually assaulted.
“I learned a lot about sexual assault in the military,” said Markescia Corker, alternate installation sexual assault response coordinator for the Combat Center. “I’m a military spouse but the only Marine I used to know was my husband. I've learned that the Marine Corps has its own culture and sexual assault is a very apparent issue in the Marine Corps. I think learning how to specifically meet the needs of the Marines is the best thing I took from the training.”
The training must be re-administered every two years and all of the installation SARCs have been trained to provide this training to the VAs and UVAs. When applying or re-applying, SARCs, UVAs and VAs are also required to pass a background check, be current on initial credentials or continuing education credits and have letters of recommendation.
“We’re all making sure that we stay educated and in the loop,” Husung said. “It’s so that we can best serve individuals who truly need us to be there for them.”