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Victim advocates: standing by 24/7

Wingman Day is scheduled for Oct. 2, on Kadena Air Base, Japan, as an opportunity for Airmen to step outside of their day-to-day work environment and focus on team-building exercises. Wingman Day encourages Comprehensive Airmen Fitness, enhancing resiliency skills with group activities to promote physical, mental, social and spiritual fitness. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

In the unfortunate event of a sexual assault to an Air Force beneficiary, victims are assigned a victim advocate who guides them through the many steps in their healing process. Victim advocates are specially trained volunteers who help coordinate logistical needs from other support agencies in order to protect their client’s comfort and privacy. They are on call 24/7 and available to aid survivors of sexual assault at all times. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- To say the least, the road to recovery from a sexual assault can seem like an unsurpassable burden for the victim.

Not only are survivors left feeling violated, frightened and damaged from the attack, but the support process can seem daunting as well. In order to guide them through the helping agencies that are there to aid them after an assault, survivors are provided a victim advocate.

"The first priority when we get a case is make sure that the survivor feels safe," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jedediah Venable, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron section chief and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response victim advocate. "From the moment we meet, we explain that we're here to help and available for as much or as little as they need us."

Victim advocates are specially trained volunteers who guide survivors through the healing process and help coordinate logistical needs from other support agencies in order to protect their client's comfort.

Back-to-back meetings with medical professionals, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Special Victims Council members and other officials can seem to happen at a rapid-fire pace, especially for a survivor who is feeling insecure and overwhelmed to begin with.

"With all the questions and the bombardment of information," said Venable, "we're there to clarify all that and slow things down so they have time to take a breath and process things in their own time."

If the survivor chooses to file an unrestricted report, an investigative team will also become extensively involved with their case and so will the judicial department, which can last several months or years.

Advocates like Venable are on call 24/7 and offer their help throughout the entirety of the case, allowing time to develop a sense of trust and familiarity.

"In order to be effective, you have to be able to relate to them and understand what they're going through," said Venable. "If you can't put yourself in their shoes, then I don't think you can provide them with the service that they're going to need to help them recover."
Assistance can come in the form of answering procedural questions in the middle of the night to just being present and supportive in the difficult circumstances, such as when a victim is needed to attest and face the perpetrator in the courtroom.

Ultimately, the goal of victim advocacy is to make sure the survivor feels empowered again in all aspects of their lives, said Venable.

"I don't think I've ever felt more fulfilled and accomplished with my duties, than when I see someone do a 180 degree turn from the point of when we meet for an initial intake," he said.

While April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, the fight to prevent assaults and provide help to the survivors is a year round effort.

"Survivors of sexual assault deserve the support of the institutional Air Force, but they also deserve the support of their peers and their wingmen," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response event. "Wingmen play a vital role in building and restoring units' climate and in supporting victims in their recovery."

If you have been sexually assaulted, call the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at 634-7272/SARC or 098-961-7272 from a cell phone. The hotline is answered 24/7 and is confidential.