MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Sexual assault can affect any Marine, negatively impact an entire unit and if overlooked, can cause problems of indefinable measure.
To curb sexual assault across the entire military, the Department of Defense released a series of initiatives Jan. 18.
“Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to try to keep America safe,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a release. “We have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack their dignity and their honor.”
Military officials received 3,191 official reports of sexual assault last year, but the estimate is that the actual number is closer to 19,000, said Panetta.
The Marine Corps has Uniform Victim Advocates in place across the Corps’ to directly deal with sexual assault, and the billet was recently made mandatory in non-deployable units.
“My sole purpose is to support the victims and get them the assistance they need or want and not to judge them,” said Staff Sgt. Racheal Benezette, UVA for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. “I am there by their side until they no longer need me, and then I ensure that they are still receiving follow on support from counseling or whatever it may be.”
Benezette added that she understands that defining sexual assault can be the most difficult part.
Department of Defense Directive 6495.01 Enclosure 1 details that sexual assault is intentional sexual contact characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact), or attempts to commit these acts.
“I think the hardest struggle for being the uniformed victim advocate is getting the word out and gaining the Marines’ attention,” said Benezette. “Victims must get the help they need.”A certain difficulty that Benezette fully considers with her job is the sensitivity of sexual assault cases.
“This is not a subject that most individuals want to talk about or can talk about comfortably,” she said. “It is difficult to gain attention sometimes without re-victimizing someone that has already been assaulted.”
A goal for UVAs is to wake up those who are or may be oblivious to the notion that sexual assault does happen in the Marine Corps. To report an incident there are two different ways that fit the victim’s needs or wants, restricted and unrestricted.
“It is very pertinent that they know who their UVA (restricted) is because they can offer them confidentiality,” said Benezette. “Whereas any other Marine (unrestricted) is not a UVA cannot offer them that security and must report it up their chain of command.”
Because sexual assault is a crime Benezette said it must be dealt with accordingly. The commands are all mandatory reporters, meaning the victim only has the unrestricted reporting option if they choose that route.
“Sexual assault is a very traumatic and personal thing for a victim,” said Benezette. “Victims generally don’t want anyone knowing about their situation that is not on a need to know basis. However, the UVA is here if they are seeking help and need someone to lean on and walk them through the process.”
For further guidance or help call Cherry Point’s victim advocate 24/7 response line at 665-4713.