Reporting policy helps victims

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Editor's Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The annual observance gives people the opportunity to increase their knowledge and promote prevention of sexual assault through special events and public education. 
Sexual assault continues to be one of the most underreported crimes in America today. Since this is the case across the nation, creating a climate of confidence where victims feel comfortable coming forward to report sexual assault crimes continues to be a top priority of the Department of Defense as it continues its fight to eliminate sexual assault crimes in the military. 

"In previous years, a report of sexual assault automatically triggered a criminal investigation," said Jennifer McCabe, Offutt's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. "And, unfortunately, this policy didn't accommodate victims who felt emotionally unprepared for criminal investigations due to fear, embarrassment, shame and the sense of violation following an assault.
"Now, significant changes in DoD policy address this challenge." 

About two years ago, DoD initiated a policy giving victims two different reporting options - restricted and unrestricted reporting, according to Ms. McCabe. 

Restricted reporting provides a victim the opportunity to confidentially disclose the details of a sexual assault to specified individuals and receive medical treatment and support services without triggering the investigative process. This option affords victims additional time to weigh their options and seek guidance regarding whether or not to participate in a criminal investigation, she said. 

An unrestricted report initiates an official investigation of an alleged sexual assault using current reporting channels. Victims receive the same medical care given in the restricted option, but this option notifies command authorities immediately, initiating the investigative process. 

Sexual assault response coordinators or victim advocates advise victims on the different reporting options available, explaining the benefits and limitations of each and documenting the reporting option selected. The victim must acknowledge his or her reporting preference in a signed victim reporting preference statement and acknowledge that, depending on the reporting option chosen, it may limit the ability of the government to prosecute the offender. 

The preference statement also lists the exceptions that apply to restricted reporting. Offutt's SARC noted a victim can change his or her preference selection from restricted to unrestricted. However, it isn't possible to change from unrestricted to restricted because the investigative process would have already begun. 

"By increasing a victim's reporting options and improving access to services, DoD hopes to create a climate of confidence so service members trust that the system will respond appropriately when reporting a sexual assault and stand behind them during their recovery," Ms. McCabe said. 

The following Web sites offer more information on the crime of sexual assault and resources available:

DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
Women Veteran's Health Program

Army Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program
Navy Sexual Assault Victim Intervention
USMC Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
National Guard Bureau Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office