Victim Advocates: Critical members of sexual assault, prevention response
Navy Airman Erica Fischer, an aviation boatswain’s mate from Whidbey Island, Wash., conducts maintenance on an aircraft firefighting engine on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Navy photo by Seaman Zach Sleeper)
ATLANTIC OCEAN — The Navy’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Response Program, known as SAPR, not only seeks to prevent and respond to sexual assaults, but also is working to eliminate that crime from the ranks.
The SAPR team aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower strives to accomplish this mission through education, comprehensive response, compassionate advocacy and fair resolution, working to promote professionalism, respect and trust while preserving Navy mission readiness.
Nineteen credentialed victim advocates are aboard “Ike,” and another victim advocate is on-call.
"We make sure the command is in compliance with the Navy SAPR regulations, and we make sure we have enough SAPR [victim advocates] to assist all of our sailors," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Claudia Ohar, a logistics specialist and Ike's SAPR point of contact. "We also ensure all of our sailors receive the initial SAPR training every year."
Ohar said victim advocates go through an extensive interview process to be considered for the position. They first must receive a recommendation from their chain of command. After their department head gives approval, the sailors are interviewed by Ohar or Navy Chief Petty Officer Sal Nacci, an interior communications electrician and the second of Ike's SAPR points of contact.
Integrity, Trustworthiness, Maturity
"Some of the main qualities that we look for in a [victim advocate] are integrity, trustworthiness and maturity level," Ohar said. "Depending on the severity of the case, being an advocate can be very stressful. It's important for the advocates to be mature enough to handle that kind of stress and responsibility."
After an interview with Ohar or Nacci, prospective advocates have a secondary interview with the Ike’s sexual response coordinator. If all of those interviews go well, Ohar said, they can then attend victim advocate training.
Ohar noted that there is a distinct difference between SAPR victim advocates and points of contact.
"The advocate is for the sailors,” she said. If a sailor reports a sexual assault to a victim advocate, the report remains restricted, she explained, but if the sailor reports it to a point of contact, it must be reported to the chain of command.
Ohar stressed that it is crucial for victims of sexual assault to take the initial step and report the crime.
"I highly encourage sailors to at least file a restricted report and talk to someone," she said. "When they are ready emotionally, physically and mentally, they can take the next step to go unrestricted and obtain justice."
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