Marines

DoD opens Safe Helpline for sexual assault victims

25 May 2011 | Lance Cpl. Lia Adkins

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Service members are regularly given statistics – numbers that show deaths from motorcycle crashes, drug abuse, suicides, or even the number of Marines and sailors who were arrested for driving under the influence every year. One statistic that gets taken too lightly is the number of sexual assault victims in the military.

Data collected from Naval Criminal Investigative Services shows that 1.1 percent per every 1,000 people reported a sexual assault in the Marine Corps during fiscal year 2010. While it may sound like such a small percentage, there are nearly 203,000 Marines, which turns that 1.1 percent into nearly 2,233 reports.

A single company, for example Headquarters Company, averages 150 to 200 Marines. These numbers mean that in 2010, the number of Marines that reported sexual assault would be enough to create more than 14 companies, or nearly five battalions. The 1.1 percent does not look as small anymore. And these are only the reported incidents.

“The Department of Defense says that approximately only 20 percent of incidents are reported ,” said Marie Brodie, the Sexual Assault and Prevention Response program manager of  Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. “So even if you look at our numbers, they don’t actually (compare).”

The DOD has partnered with a non-profit organization called the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, in order to create a completely confidential DOD-wide sexual assault response line.

“Any (service member) can either call, text or chat online with a trained victim advocate,” said Brodie. “The reason that they did this is because there has never been anything like this, and it is 100 percent confidential. That means that the victim advocate who answers that call will not make any further actions.”

The DOD Safe Helpline does not keep track of any information other than the number of contacts made by either phone, text, or online chat. All Safe Helpline staff members on the other end of the line have been trained on DOD Directive 6495 for sexual assault, so they each have information on doing an either restricted or unrestricted report, if the victim chooses to do so.

“If a victim calls and says, ‘I would like an unrestricted report,’ they know how to explain that to them, who to go to, and they also have a list of all the sexual response coordinators at every installation,” said Brodie.

A Marine, who chooses to remain anonymous, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune has shared her story about sexual assault.

“The incident occurred in September of 2008,” said Anonymous. “I did not report until April 2009 because I knew nothing about the SARP program beyond who my (Uniform Victim Advocate) was, and I also knew that everyone else was a mandatory reporter. I seriously thought they were the only ones I was allowed to talk to.”

The DOD Safe Helpline has helped fill a void and created three different methods for contact. The motto is “Help is just a Click, Call or Text away.” All three can be reached 24/7, around the world and is always confidential.

Brodie added that the texting is not as interactive. “It’s limited, when a Marine or sailor texts, they only get a text back of who their SARC is,” said Brodie. “It’s not truly texting the way a young Marine or sailor would think of having a conversation.”

The call line just kicked off April 1 and has already received a number of calls. From the moment a service member picks up the phone, that line will be picked up by an advocate who is trained to help. That is the same person that stays with the victim throughout.

The last way to use the DOD Safe Helpline is by online chat at www.safehelpline.org. The website has all information regarding numbers for calls and texts, and is the link to the anonymous online chat.

In the first step, a victim will need to read over the terms of service, which contains the user agreement, privacy policy and user safety procedures. The person must read and agree to the services before continuing. They will then be cued to the waiting room where a trained advocate will begin the session. A “Go Chat” button will appear when the advocate is ready.

The chat will begin immediately afterward. The user will be logged in as “Anonymous,” to keep things confidential. No personal information will be requested, and no logs or records of the conversations are kept.

Brodie added that from her experience, people who are assaulted want that privacy, the anonymity, and the DOD Safe Helpline provides that place to go.

“I didn’t want my commanding officer to know because I perceived that he was not receptive to those who had mental health issues,” said Anonymous. “When I was professionally ostracized because of his knowledge of my condition, my fears were confirmed, and I was even transferred to another unit. (It was not until) after I realized I was getting screwed, I finally figured out who the SARC was and called them. He referred me to a civilian victim advocate, and I made the restricted report. I think this could have turned out a lot better if I had know I could have gotten medical intervention and counseling confidentially early on in the process as opposed to trying to do everything on my own.”

Brodie said that the DOD Safe Helpline is an addition to, and not in place of, reporting the incident to authorities, but if a Marine of sailor only feels comfortable calling the DOD Safe Helpline, it is a valid choice.

 “Knowing about a confidential hotline would have certainly assisted in this process I am sure. It gives options to all Marines and sailors, which is critical,” said Anonymous. “If I had known I could have gone to medical or Marine and family services I could have taken care of myself, before self-medicating or making irresponsible decisions. I thank God I never spun so out of control that I did something to disgrace myself or the uniform that I wear or the position that I held.”

The DOD Safe Helpline is available 24/7 no matter where in the world, and is completely confidential. You can chat online at SafeHelpline.org, call 877-995-5247 to speak with someone, or text 55-247 if inside the U.S., or 202-470-5546 outside the U.S. for information on the nearest SARC.

“We want Marines and sailors to know that one – you can report this, two – we are going to be here to help you if you do report this and three – there’s no way to stop an offender if it is never reported,” said Brodie. “We are going to take care of you.”