Sexual Assault Prevention Response – What the program is all about

5 Apr 2021 | Cpl. Francesca Landis III Marine Expeditionary Force

Anybody could be a victim of sexual assault. It could happen anywhere and at any time. In the Marine Corps, one of Marines’ most important responsibilities is to look out for their brothers and sisters beside them. Through the Sexual Assault Prevention Response program, Marines receive that capability.

The Department of Defense initiated the SAPR program to provide victims the resources and support systems they need to recover from the trauma they suffered. The program also educates the military community on prevention methods.

When the program started in 2006, the Marine Corps’ version of the program involved only Marines until 2008 when the DoD partnered with Marine Corps Community Services and began hiring civilian personnel as Sexual Assault Response Coordinators.

“The role of the SARC is to be a conduit to the commanders and installations,” said Donna M. Brewer, the SARC for III Marine Expeditionary Force. “I have two roles: To first off take care of clients. As the case manager I notify the command of any unrestricted cases. Secondly, to make sure the victims’ wishes are presented to the commander.”

In addition to hiring civilian SARCs, the Marine Corps began training Marines and Sailors as Sexual Assault Prevention Response Victim Advocates. SARC’s work full time managing a command’s SAPR program.

SAPR VAs are Marines who work their normal jobs on a daily basis but are trained to respond when a Marine comes forward about a sexual assault. When that happens, advocating for the victim becomes that Marine’s primary mission.

The purpose of a SAPR VA is to provide support to a victim and ensure they get the correct resources and information to get through a traumatic experience. SAPR VAs are the first person a Marine should talk to when in need of the SAPR program’s assistance.

“They may just be asking questions, or they may want to report an incident that happened,” said Sgt. Ryo A. Ishimaru, a Sexual Assault Prevention Response Victim Advocate with III MEF. “We are kind of like the liaison for the Marine. We make sure he or she gets the help they need.”

As the liaison for a victim, a SAPR VA will be by the victim’s side through the entire process. They act as moral support, accompanying them to the Victims Legal Counsel or Naval Criminal Investigative Services and keeping them informed in what’s going on throughout an unrestricted case.

“This [sexual assault] could happen to anyone, male or female,” said Ishimaru. “My support doesn’t stop until they tell me they no longer want SAPR services. And even then, they can come talk to me whenever they want. Day or night.”

Within these two roles are many responsibilities, such as ensuring the victim’s needs are met, working with departments like the NCIS, VLC, and Provost Marshall’s Office, creating and gathering all the necessary paperwork for a case, and meeting with commanders to advocate on behalf of a victim. That may include transferring a Marine to a new command or residence due to safety concerns within a unit or living quarters.

"Sexual assault could happen to anyone, male or female. My support doesn’t stop until they tell me they no longer want SAPR services." Sgt. Ryo A. Ishimaru, III MEF Sexual Assault Prevention Response Victim Advocate

SARCs and SAPR VAs are continuously trained and educated on sexual assault prevention and awareness, learning everything from possible warning signals of sexual assault to the neurobiology behind fight, flight, or freeze instincts that kick in during dangerous situations.

They share that training and information with Marines throughout the unit to increase awareness of sexual assault and prevention.

Though the program itself is a response force, through providing knowledge about what sexual assault is and how to spot it, prevention can be achieved.

The SAPR program holds rank-specific training such as Step Up for E-1 through E-3, Take a Stand for non-commissioned officers, and as of April 1st there is now staff non-commissioned officer training as well, said Brewer.

The purpose of the Step Up training is to teach bystander intervention at the lower ranks and help Marines understand what cues to watch for and when it is appropriate and safe to step in and say something.

With the Take a Stand training for NCOs and the new training for SNCOs, the SAPR program teaches leaders to how to respond when a victim comes to them for help.

Brewer explained that it is important for leadership to know when to stop their Marine from divulging information and unintentionally triggering an unrestricted report and potential investigation. If a Marine tells any one in their direct chain of command that they have been sexually assaulted, that person is required to report it and the Marine will no longer be able to file a restricted report.

Through the SAPR training, leaders learn to say, “Hey, I’m not a confidential reporter. Let me take you down to a SAPR VA, and they can help you but I am here if you need anything.”

How things are handled in units at the lower levels is what keeps Marines and Sailors safe, explained Brewer. The small unit leaders are the first line of defense. They are the ones who see them at work and at the barracks and will see first if something doesn’t seem right. Just keeping an eye on things is prevention.

Brewer said, Marines being able to work and live in a safe environment where they feel comfortable and are willing to say something if they see or experience something, is what we strive for with our program.

If you or someone you know is involved in or witnesses a Sexual Assault please contact a SAPR program representative for help.