Each month, during the Walter Reed Bethesda Women's Leadership Forum, female service members from all branches, enlisted and officers, gather to discuss topics impacting their lives and careers.
More than a dozen women joined the forum's chair, Chief Charlotte Gee, and co-chair, Chief Tamika Figgs, to discuss sexual violence at the group's meeting recently.
Gee explained why the focus of the October forum was important, saying some people don't know "the true meaning" of sexual assault. "They think only rape is considered sexual assault. It's more than just rape." Sexual assault is a range of criminal behaviors, the forum attendees learned.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reported the results of a 2010 national sexual violence survey, an average 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. Nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime while 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime.
It's also possible for a woman to rape a man, according to Anton Altman, who serves both as a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) and domestic abuse victim advocate at Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB).
Altman led the discussion at the Oct. 24 Women's Leadership Forum.
Altman said men in the military are more likely to report being a victim of sexual assault than their civilian counterparts. He presented a video used to train police officers. Altman explained police officers and service members share similar pressures and experiences. The video helps show men how easily they can become victims of sexual violence, just as women can, and to empathize with all victims.
"It's important to be sensitive to these issues, important to treat people the way you want to be treated," Altman said.
Confidentiality is crucial, as well as ensuring the victim the right to determine whether or not they want to report the crime, so it's important for the persons they tell to know what to do, Altman said. They should call one of two numbers: 301-442-8225, the 24-7 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) hotline number, or 877-995-5247, the DoD Safe Helpline, the global military sexual assault hotline.
"That's all they need to do, they don't need to do anything else," Altman said. "There's nothing else to remember: just call the number and we'll take care of the rest."
Leaders who take action before calling a SARC may make the matter an unrestricted report, which may jeopardize both the victim's privacy and choice whether to report the crime. An unrestricted report means Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Criminal Investigative Division, or others may get involved, and the victim is put on the spot whether they want to report the crime. A restricted report empowers the victim to make that decision.
"A lot of times in panic we do too much instead of pausing and calling the subject matter expert," Altman added. Gee said she knows individuals who were sexually assaulted at her previous command. "They didn't want to report it because of what people [may have thought] about them or their chain of command - they [were] just scared to report."
Both male and female service members and civilians can attend the next training class Jan. 21-25 to become a victim advocate at NSAB. Please contact Anton Altman or Kim Tobiere-Agnew at 301-319-4087 for more information on how to become a member of the SAPR team.
Female service members interested in attending the November Women's Leadership Forum can contact Chief Charlotte Gee at 301-295-5161 or charlotte.l.gee.m ilhealth.mil.