How to respond to sexual assault incidents

12 Jul 2010 | Cpl. Jo Jones

Sexual assault is a criminal act that often leaves its victims suffering from physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives.  Whether stationed stateside aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time.

With the amount of reported sexual assault cases reaching the thousands, the Department of Defense has been taking proactive measures to combat this issue and offer aid to its victims. 

In 2005, the DoD implemented the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, which formally educates DoD personnel about sexual assault and assists those affected by the criminal act.  In 2009, the Marine Corps hired SAPR program managers at all Marine Corps bases with more than 1,000 Marines.

“The SAPR program is a victim-centered program supported by senior leadership,” said Marie Brodie, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program manager and installation sexual assault response coordinator for MCB Camp Lejeune.  “The ultimate message (to the victims) is, ‘We are here for you; we will stand by you; you should know you can get help and support.’”

The DoD defines sexual assault as intentional sexual contact characterized by the use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent.  It is criminal in nature and includes rape, forcible sodomy and other unwanted sexual contact that is abusive or wrongful.

The SAPR program is designed to aid and protect victims of sexual assault, educate bystanders about recognizing and preventing sexual assault and hold offenders accountable for their actions.

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault.  Although most sexual assault cases occur between male perpetrators and female victims, Brodie said there have been cases of males sexually assaulting other males and very occasionally, female offenders with male victims. 

Regardless of the victims’ gender, Brodie said commanders highly encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward and report the cases.  Still, there are many reasons they do not.  Brodie said victims may be uncertain about what will happen next and who will find out.  Some victims feel shame and guilt about the crime, which affects their decision to report it or not.  Victims sometimes fear they won’t be believed or that people will think negatively about them.  Others feel the legal process is confusing. Many are intimidated by superiors or fear that their chains-of-command will do nothing.

Brodie said many people know someone who has been a victim of sexual assault and that understanding the crime and the fears of the victim could help commanders and peers to be more supportive.

“We want to ensure all victims are treated fairly, with dignity, without prejudice and with respect,” said Brodie.

Brodie said most people were not offenders but rather bystanders, people who do not commit acts of sexual assault but may have an opportunity to intervene and prevent someone else from committing a criminal act.  Brodie said the SAPR program provides training and education on risk reduction and bystander intervention.

Risk reduction teaches service members how to recognize behaviors that might make them vulnerable to sexual predators.  Bystander intervention is scenario-based training that teaches service members how to intervene on behalf of someone who could potentially be in a dangerous situation or conversely, how to stop someone from doing something that is possibly criminal behavior. 

Brodie said both of these factors were crucial to preventing many potential sexual assault cases.

“It’s important to teach people bystander intervention,” said Brodie.  “It takes skill and practice to know how to speak up and intervene if you see someone behaving inappropriately.”

Brodie said the SAPR program allowed SAPR personnel and commanders to hold offenders accountable for their violent, criminal behaviors.  For the 2009 fiscal year, the DoD reported 3,230 sexual assault cases, 983 of them resulting in command disciplinary actions such as courts-martial charges, administrative discharges and other adverse administrative actions.

In order to take such actions against perpetrators, however, victims must take action.  Brodie said it was important, therefore, to create an environment where victims feel safe to report sexual assault cases to law enforcement personnel.

“Reporting is the key to holding offenders accountable,” said Brodie.

There are two ways to report sexual assault incidents: restricted reporting and unrestricted reporting.

During restricted reporting, victims receive medical treatment, advocacy and counseling while protecting their identity and confidentiality.  Law enforcement personnel do not get involved and the victims’ chains-of-command are not informed.  Restricted reporting may turn into unrestricted reporting at any time with the victim’s consent.

While those who opt for unrestricted reporting also receive medical treatment, advocacy and counseling, unrestricted reporting generates a formal report to the victims’ chains-of-command and other law enforcement units such as the Provost Marshal’s Office and Naval Criminal Investigative Service to ensure a full investigation of the incident is conducted.

Any service member can report sexual assault cases, but there are other people who are also available to take a report of sexual assault and who are protected by confidentiality. Sexual assault response coordinators, uniformed victim advocates, civilian victim advocates, health care providers and chaplains are available to listen, provide information and resources.  Brodie said DoD personnel can talk to any of these people about sexual assault and that person does not have to report the crime to law enforcement or the chain-of-command if it goes against the wishes of the victim.

Brodie said about 85 to 90 percent of sexual assault victims know their offenders, often making it much more difficult for the victims to come forward.  Brodie stressed, however, victims and bystanders alike should not use familiarity as an excuse to tolerate sexual assault.

Brodie said the DoD has implemented a number of formal, proactive measures to combat sexual assault incidents in every branch of the military and every unit within each service.  For those stationed aboard MCB Camp Lejeune or in the Camp Lejeune community, please contact the following to report a crime or for help:

-- Ms. Marie Brodie can be reached at her office: 910-450-5159; her cell phone: 910-352-9635 or by e-mail:

-- Call Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647.

-- Call MCB Camp Lejeune Community Counseling Center at 910-451-2864.

- Civilian Victim Advocates may be contacted directly during normal working hours at MCB Camp Lejeune’s Community Counseling Center.

-- Service members, whether stationed stateside, overseas or forward deployed, may contact their respective Uniformed Victim Advocates.  Every battalion- or squadron-sized unit or higher should have at least two UVAs.

For more information regarding the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, refer to Marine Corps Order 1752.5A or visit the website