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Army working to prevent sexual assault
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Part II

This story is the second in a two-part series about the Army making improvements in reponse to sexual assaults.

The Army has improved its response to the needs of sexual assault victims, a recent task force study shows, but recommends more can be done to address sexual assault prevention and response.
Members of Winn Army Community Hospital’s Sexual Assault Response Team, Fort Stewart’s Criminal Investigation Department agents, victim advocates and military legal counselors agree improvements should continue to be made.
Team members say they at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field have made advances by training soldiers in sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and by networking with their civilian law enforcement and social services counterparts.
“The Army has one of the best programs I’ve seen,” said Denise Johnson, victim witness liaison. “People will start talking more about sexual harassment and sexual assault, and start thinking about (prevention).”
Susan Domine, with the Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield Family Advocacy Program, said troop training in sexual assault prevention is done for installation soldiers on a quarterly basis, even though they are only required to offer annual training.
“We are out there all the time,” Domine said.
She said witness intervention is part of the training, and is strongly urged so that soldiers are looking out for their peers.
Young soldiers also respond well to guest speakers and educational videos shown during training, Domine said. One program that has been effective, she said, is “Sex Signals,” a play which features collegiate-age actors. Actors take cues from the military audience and instruct soldiers in how to prevent sexual assault or sexual harassment, Domine explained.
She added the team sometimes sees an increase in reports of incidents after a sexual assault response campaign, but “that may not be a bad thing.” Victims may be more comfortable asking for help, knowing what services are provided, Domine said.
In addition to educational outreach, team members say consistent networking with other agencies, a soldier’s command and local law enforcement better serves the victim who wants to press charges against her, or his, attacker.
A victim who is active duty military can be reassigned so that the victim is separated from the alleged offender, especially if they are in the same command, team members say.
And, if a victim wants to press charges against her attacker and the assault occurred off post, then CID investigators can collaborate with civilian police to investigate the crime, said Christopher Grey, with the Army CID public affairs office in Washington, D.C.
“It’s typical police work,” Grey said. “We take statements, interview witnesses and take forensic evidence.”
Grey said the CID goes even further in its evidence collection in sexual assault cases than do some local agencies.
“We have to ensure the good order and discipline of the military,” he said.
Grey emphasized that sexual assault is taken seriously, but adds that CID agents have investigated cases where false accusations are made.
“Our main purpose is to get to the truth,” he said.
Grey said he gains the same satisfaction in clearing an innocent person who has been falsely accused of sexual assault as he does “putting away” an offender who has been found guilty.
Accused offenders, who are considered innocent until proven guilty, may be traumatized by an accusation and can seek Army chaplains for counseling.
“Just having a place they can go and talk and be totally honest without repercussion…that is in itself treatment,” said Maj. Michael Reeves, Installation Family Life Chaplain.
If a victim’s case does go to court following an investigation, the victim may have a victim advocate by their side throughout trial proceedings, team members said.
“Prosecution is the last part,” said Chief of Military Justice Andy McKee. “In many cases (a trial) is not a comfortable environment for victims.”
McKee explained an accused offender has the right to have their legal counsel aggressively cross-examine a victim, and ask “very uncomfortable questions.”
McKee said having victim advocates assist victims throughout their ordeal can help a victim endure the stress of a trial.
Victims of sexual assault can contact 767-3032 at Fort Stewart or 315-5343 at Hunter Army Air Field, or call Military One-Source at 1-1800-342-9647 for help.
Other resources include the Tri-County Protective Shelter at 912-368-9200 and the Rape Crisis Center at 1-888-241-7273.
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