DoD Launches New Online Resource for Victims of Rape, Sexual Assault or Harassment

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Online Resource for Victims of RapeThe Department of Defense announced the creation of Safe HelpRoom – a new peer-to-peer support resource for servicemembers and transitioning servicemembers who believe they have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed. 

(Note: If you have just been assaulted or raped, read this first for tips on how to preserve evidence and preserve your options and law enforcement’s options if you want to pursue criminal charges against your attacker.)

SafeHelpRoom is an add-on feature to Safe Helpline – an online resource fielded last year via a contract with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN. It provides a way for victims to communicate with one another and to connect with support services counseling and advice through an anonymous Internet chat portal. According to RAINN, their network does not record the IP addresses of those who log into their system – though if servicemembers do so from their work computers, it is possible for their supervisors to determine their online activity from the DoD’s own logs.

RAINN workers will also conduct two online Safe HelpRoom sessions for two hours, twice per week. The schedule is posted at the website, www.SafeHelpline.org. These workers will have information on available help and resources near military bases and other possible supports for victims. It is not necessary to have filed a restricted or unrestricted report via SHARP or to have already gone to the chain of command with your report before signing on to Safe Helpline.

Alternatively, servicemembers, including those who have recently retired or ETS’d, can call 877-995-5247, 24 hours a day, seven days per week.  The phone number is the same for use inside the U.S. or via the Defense Switched Network (DSN).

“Safe HelpRoom was designed with unique safeguards to ensure a safe and welcoming place for survivors to connect,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office. “Safe HelpRoom is the first of its kind to require participants to commit to a series of ‘ground rules’ of acceptable behavior before entering a session. Additionally, each participant comment is reviewed to ensure it complies with the ground rules prior to posting for the group to see. Safe HelpRoom provides a secure and private environment for positive and supportive discussions.”

The Department of Defense estimates that up to 26,000 servicemembers experienced sexual assault in 2012, which is up from about 19,000 in 2011.  The numbers are based on an anonymous survey, however. However, only 3,374 people actually reported the assault.

Among those who reported that they experienced an assault but did not report it, about 47 percent reported that they did not do so because they feared retaliation or reprisal. Moreover, 43 percent of those surveyed said they had heard about the negative experiences of others who reported being attacked.

The officer in charge of the U.S. Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, was arrested last month for allegedly groping a woman – suggesting that the recent U.S. Air Force crackdown on images of WWII nose art and copies of Men’s Fitness magazine in the work areas may have been off target.

Naturally, the other services will be following suit.

Meanwhile, another report, focusing specifically on the service academies, indicated that there were a total of 80 sexual assaults reported through the chain of command or through SHARP auspices during the 2011-2012 academic year; 38 of them were “restricted reports,” that were, at the victims request, not referred to commanders to consider UCMJ action. 42 percent were ‘unrestricted,’ meaning that commanders were informed of the details, and if they believed the evidence warranted prosecution, could be referred for UCMJ action against the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators. Four of those restricted reports were later converted to unrestricted at the victim’s request.

Incidentally, the number of reported cases of sexual assaults has risen dramatically at the service academies, rising from a low of 25 during the 2008-2009 academic year to 41, 65 and 80 in the following years.

 

 

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