Reporting military sexual assaults no simple matter

Reporting military sexual assaults no simple matter

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Depending on who the Airmen tells, reporting a sexual assault in the Air Force can have two very different outcomes.As the Air Force doubled its efforts in the month of April to provide tools and resources aimed at preventing sexual assault, officials are tying to educate Airmen about the rules and caveats that accompany their selected method of reporting a sex crime. 

According to the Hill Air Force Base Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, there are three ways an Airmen can report sexual assaults. The first, which is “highly recommended” by base Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Janaee Stone, is called a “restricted” report.

To put it in its most basic terms, the restricted reporting process allows military members and their adult dependents to report a sexual assault without initiating an investigation. The sexual assault allegation must be reported to an official SARC, a military health-care provider, a chaplain or an on-duty victim advocate.

Stone said this pathway provides confidential reporting and allows victims access to medical care, counseling and a victim advocate, but will not automatically initiate the investigative process. Stone said the restricted process is a way to give the victim time to process the event and increase the control they have over the release of their personal information.

“Let’s say a victim walks into my office and they tell us (about a sexual assault),” Stone said. “Law enforcement, nobody needs to be notified at all. But let’s say they get counseling and six months later, they decide to (seek legal action), we still have the DNA, we still have the rape exam to come forward with that.”

A second reporting pathway, the ”unrestricted“ report, removes much of the victim’s choice.

“What we usually see happen is they trust a supervisor and tell a supervisor, ‘this is what happened,’ ” Stone said. “(But) if they divulge that information (of a sexual assault allegation) to someone in their chain of command, that restricted option is gone. So it’s very, very critical of who the victim tells.”

Once a victim reports a sexual assault to someone above them in their chain of command, law enforcement, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations or other criminal investigative service, confidentiality is removed and details of the allegation are provided to Air Force personnel who have a legitimate need to know.

Stone said commanding officers are required by law to report their knowledge of a potential sex crime.

“We train (those in the chain of command) that if you know something has happened to one of your Airmen, if a crime has been committed, you have to report that,” Stone said. 

Stone said telling a superior of a sexual assault may seem intuitive in many cases, but her office is working to educate Airmen of the restricted reporting option.

“(A victim) usually tells someone they trust,” Stone said. “No matter how much training we seem to do, people will say ‘going to the SARC came into my mind, but I forgot how to contact you.’ That’s why we try to plaster our phone number everywhere, so that way it’s easier for people to remember.”

Col. Tom Rogers, 75th Air Base Wing Staff Judge Advocate, said sexual assault victims can also file restricted reports with the base’s Special Victim’s Counsel, a program that provides victims with an attorney at the Air Force’s expense. Those attorneys act as judge advocates with the singular role of representing victims in a confidential, attorney-client relationship, throughout investigation and prosecution processes.

A third type of sexual assault reporting, called an independent report, comes when an independent or third-party source reports knowledge of a sexual assault to commanders. Stone said official investigations can be initiated from independent reports.

Stone said whatever option is chosen, the Air Force encourages all victims of sexual assault to report it. Hill’s Special Victim’s Counsel can be reached through the base’s Staff Judge Advocate Office at 801-777-6756. Hill’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator can be reached at 801-777-1985 or 801-777-1964.

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