Support for Military Sexual Assault Victims and Family Members
A recent survey revealed troubling trends in both reported and unreported incidences of sexual assault within the military. The National Military Family Association advocates a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault and looks forward to a quick resolution from Congress and the Services. In the meantime, we would like to do what we can to help support victims and their families who are dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.
If you are a service member who has been a victim of sexual assault, there are several resources available that provide information, referrals to local crisis centers, and online support networks and assistance. You will find a guide to these resources below.
Many organizations that support survivors of sexual assault also provide advice and referrals to victims’ family members. Family support is critical to survivors, but it may be difficult for family members to know what to do or what to say (or not say) to their service member. If your family member has been a victim of sexual assault and you are seeking information on how to help them, please take a look at the resources provided below for valuable advice and support.
Resources for Sexual Assault Victims
RAINN (RAPE, ABUSE & INCEST NATIONAL NETWORK)
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE
How does it work? When a caller dials 1.800.656.HOPE, a computer notes the area code and first three digits of the caller's phone number. The call is then instantaneously connected to the nearest RAINN center. The caller’s phone number is not retained, so the call is anonymous and confidential unless the caller chooses to share personally identifying information.
Studies have shown that the best services for victims of sexual assault are those offered at community rape treatment centers. They are equipped not only for counseling, but also for information about community resources and emergency protocols. In addition, because rape and sexual assault laws vary by state, local centers are in the best position to advise victims on the legal aspects of the crime.
RAINN also provides an Online Hotline. Using a secure and anonymous instant-messaging type format, the online hotline allows victims of sexual violence to communicate directly with trained crisis support volunteers. The online hotline is free of charge and is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
DOD SAFE HELPLINE
The Department of Defense (DoD) Safe Helpline (operated by RAINN) provides confidential crisis intervention, support and information to members of the DoD community who have been sexually assaulted. Safe Helpline is available anytime, anywhere, worldwide.
RAINN has adapted the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline to provide specialized help to members of the DoD community. All Safe Helpline staff members have been trained to answer questions relating to military-specific topics such as Restricted and Unrestricted Reporting and how to contact relevant military resources, such as your installation's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), should those services be requested.
Your information will remain confidential. RAINN will not share your name or any other personally-identifying information with DoD, SAPRO (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office), or your chain of command. In addition to online support, the DoD Safe Helpline is available by phone. The phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via the Defense Switched Network (DSN): 877.995.5247.
DoD Safe Helpline also offers peer support via Safe HelpRoom. Safe HelpRoom will initially be available two nights a week. All sessions will be moderated by RAINN’s victim-services staff, which will also review and approve posts to ensure they comply with the service’s ground rules.
SWAN (SERVICE WOMEN’S ACTION NETWORK)
SWAN offers a helpline for servicewomen, women veterans, and their families, as well as any servicemember or veteran who has experienced Military Sexual Trauma. The helpline is staffed by a woman veteran caseworker who will listen to you and, if necessary, will work in consultation with an experienced group of veterans, health providers, and attorneys to determine how they can best assist and help you.
The helpline provides referrals for supportive services in the U.S., legal referrals, and answers basic legal inquiries. They also provide limited case management services and basic information about Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) benefits and claims procedure. You can reach the helpline at 888.729.2089.
Pandora's Project is nonprofit organization dedicated to providing peer support to anyone who has been a victim of rape, sexual assault, or sexual abuse. The Pandora’s Project website includes an online support group with a message board (approximately 55,000 members) and a chat room that hosts guest speakers. There are currently 24 guest transcripts online covering a variety of topics.
Resources for Family Members of Sexual Assault Victims
- RAINN’s How to Help a Loved One offers advice on how to help your family member through the recovery process. They also provide tips on coping with your own emotions including shock, anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear so that you are better equipped to help your family member.
- The DoD Safe Helpline, has a section called What to do if you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted. It outlines steps to take immediately following an assault as well as advice for supporting the victim in recovery.
- SWAN’s helpline is available to family members of military sexual assault victims who have questions regarding how to help their service member.
- Pandora’s Project has a variety of message boards including a forum called Healing Together that is dedicated to secondary survivors struggling with the effects of rape and abuse. It enables them to get feedback from each other and directly from survivors. Pandora’s Project also provides a variety of articles to help you more effectively support your family member.
If you are experiencing difficulty in coping with the sexual assault of a loved one, it is imperative that you seek help for yourself as well. The organizations noted above can help you find counseling resources so you maintain your emotional health and your ability to support your service member in recovery.
Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.
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