Both women and men can experience sexual assault during their service (what is sexual assault?). Any type of assault can affect a person’s physical and mental health, even many years later. But, people can recover from trauma. Knowing who to speak with after such incident can be key to your recovery.
When overwhelmed by strong emotions, the body and mind sometimes react by shutting down and becoming numb. As a result, you may have difficulty experiencing loving feelings or feeling some emotions, especially when upset by traumatic events or memories. It is important to remember that sexual trauma is an experience, not a diagnosis or a mental health condition in and of itself. Given the range of distressing sexually related experiences that are reported, it is not surprising that there are a wide range of emotional reactions that you may have in response to these events.
Many individuals of sexual trauma do not tell their family and friends. It is important to understand why revealing something like this can be extremely difficult. Individuals in the military cannot leave their jobs and they may have to continue working alongside their alleged offender in some ways. This is the reason why the recent changes to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) policy have been well-received. The Department of Defense expanded the eligibility to file restricted reports. The change allows any individual to make a restricted report after knowledge of the incident has been reported to officials or SAPR. This option is also available to military members, dependents, and civilian employees. This is a major change from previous policies, which limited options after an assault was reported to command officials. Now, people have the option to make a restricted report even if the assault is disclosed through their chain of command as long as it is not personally disclosed to law enforcement. A commander retains his/her duty to contact the appropriate Military Criminal Investigative Organization immediately upon being notified of a sexual assault, whether the sexual assault is in his or her own chain of command.
You can speak in confidence to a SAPR Victim Advocate (VA), Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Victims' Legal Counsel, healthcare personnel*, and chaplain without initiating an investigation. You have the choice of whom you talk with, but only a SARC or SAPR VA can take a report.
*Some state and local laws require healthcare personnel to disclose sexual assault incidents to law enforcement. Your SAPR VA can help you navigate your state and local laws or visit the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network website.