Leaders sign proclamation to combat sexual assault

By Jenn Rowell

They don’t like to use numbers be­cause the statistics are misleading, but sexual assault is a real problem for the military and for the community.

On Friday, base leaders, area mayors and community members gathered to sign a joint proclamation naming April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

April has been designated as such since 2001, but the signers said they con­tinue to call attention to the issue in hopes of greater awareness and preven­tion. And they added, a joint stand against sexual assault is more effective than working separately.

“It’s really a shame that we need to have a proclamation like this,” Lt. Gen. Peck said. “It hurts individuals, it hurts families, it hurts missions and all of those are important to us.”

Peck is the Air University command­er at Maxwell Air Force Base.

Sexual assault is a crime defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault in­cludes rape, nonconsensual sodomy, indecent assault or attempts to commit these acts, according to the information brochure from the Sexual Assault Pre­vention and Response Office at Maxwell.

LaNesa Howard is the sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC, at Max­well. She and her deputy SARC, Capt. Heather Mahowald, conduct training sessions for the base and offer victim care. They also work with community groups such as Lighthouse and Standing Together Against Rape, or STAR.

Howard said that this year the Air Force is using a training program called bystander inter­vention training or BIT. It’s de­signed to help people intervene safely if they see the signs of a sexual assault or know some­thing about one.

Howard said in many cases of sexual assault, someone knew something ahead of time.

It’s a 90-minute session for groups of 25, she said. The train­ing includes three tracks, one for senior leadership on base, one for males and one for fe­males.

Her office also provides vic­tim care and works with STAR, which conducts sexual assault exams.

Howard said she doesn’t pay much attention to the numbers of reported sexual assaults, be­cause the numbers are mislead­ing.

“But it is a problem,” she said. “Even one is one too many, if someone is violated and hurt. The goal is to help victims be­come survivors and help survi­vors become even stronger.”

The SARC position was cre­ated for the Department of De­fense in June 2005 and most bases have a SARC. Howard has been the SARC at Maxwell since 2006.

Howard said the idea is to raise awareness to prevent sexu­al assaults.

“We recognize that there’s just a small percentage of people out there that hurt people, but of that percentage, many are re­peat offenders,” she said. “We want more awareness and want help to stop those that would hurt people. We think that’s a message that people should hear.”

Mayors from Montgomery, Pike Road and Tallassee attend­ed the ceremony Friday.

Prattville Mayor Jim Byard signed the proclamation ahead of time and the other mayors from Millbrook and Wetumpka will sign the proclamation later.

Mayor Gordon Stone of Pike Road said together they have a better chance of reducing sexual assaults.

“Whether we will eliminate it is not the issue,” he said. “It’s what are we going to do about it.”

originally published here

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