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National Guard working toward a better future for sexual assault vicitims

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Indiana Air National Guard /Indiana Army National Guard Sexual Assault numbers

2007 6 0
2008 4 1
2009 9 0
2010 7 0
2011 9 0
2012 8 1
2013* 8 3
*Through July 10 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 9:39 am

A month ago the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard had a stand down, or stop of military action, to discuss the topic of sexual assault. It was part of a national military stand down on the topic since 2005.

Capt. Rebecca Metzger, wing executive officer/sexual assault response coordinator, led a series of discussion groups to train the 900-some guard members at the Fort Wayne-based 122nd about the topic. Each section had anywhere from 90 to 150 people in it. The idea Metzger explained was to inform and spark discussion on what is often an uncomfortable topic.

Col. David L. Augustine, wing commander, spoke to the group en masse, which was the first time a high- ranking officer had taken part in the yearly training. Metzger said she thought it made the troops have a better understanding of the importance of the topic with it coming from the unit's highest-ranking officer.

The stand down was done on the state level for the Army National Guard earlier in August when Maj. Gen. R Martin Umbarger gave opening remarks to a session for commanders.

Umbarger said now they had recruiters following the rules, obliquely referring to the crackdown after National Guard recruiter Sgt. Eric Vetesy, 36, was accused in a 31-count indictment of sexually assaulting six female recruits, mostly Noblesville High School students, between May 2002 and November 2003. Umbarger said it is time to get everyone in command positions to follow the sexual assault protocol and make sure all commanders pass on a reported sexual assault. Umbarger said he wasn't going to get rid of officers who report it, but those who know of a sexual assault and don't report it.

Protocol was changed in the military several years ago. It used to be that sexual assault victims would have to report incidents directly to their commanding officers. Now an assault can be reported directly to a sexual assault response coordinator (SARC), explained Metzger, who has had official training and is nationally licensed. However if it is an unrestricted report, the SARC officer must report it to the commanding officer. It is then the commanding officer's responsibility to pass the report on to a higher authority for an investigation.

Indiana National Guard Judge Advocate General Officer Lt. Col. Brian Dickerson, said the current numbers of sexual assaults in 2013 for both Air and Army Indiana National Guard units are 16 reported sexual assaults with three restricted and 13 unrestricted cases as of Sept 26.

The difference between restricted and unrestricted cases, according to the Department of Defense regulations, is a matter of how they are handled and the options the victim has. An unrestricted report of a sexual assault protocol is “to report the crime to specified individuals who can then ensure the victim receives medical care, treatment and counseling without notifying command or law enforcement officials. Covered individuals include the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC); Victim Advocates (VA); healthcare providers; and chaplains. For purposes of public safety and command responsibility, the SARC will notify the installation commander that an assault has occurred and provide details that will not identify the victim.”

While restricted reporting of sexual assault protocol is for victims who “wish to confidentially disclose the crime to specifically identified individuals and receive medical treatment and counseling without triggering the official investigative process. Service members who are sexually assaulted and desire restricted reporting under this policy must: Report the assault to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Victim Advocate (VA), a health care provider or chaplain. This policy on restricted reporting is in addition to the current protections afforded privileged communications with a chaplain, and does not alter or affect those protections.”

Dickerson said he attributes the higher numbers being reported to better training on reporting sexual assault.

Victims of a sexual assault can apply for an expedited transfer, which must be acted upon within 72 hours of the request. Metzger said that allows the victim to get away from the unit, and the accused attacker while the investigation is being conducted.

Dickerson said since 2008 there has only been one reported case of sexual assault at the 122nd. Metzger said the training that is given annually encourages a back and forth dialogue. Metzger said she is especially thankful for the staff of the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center, 2270 Lake Ave, who has worked with the unit on its sexual assault program.

Currently, Metzger has one SARC alternate and three advocates who have all been trained and licensed to handle sexual assault situations. Metzger said they will work with their guard members whether the attack happened on or off the base. However if it is off-base and the victim wishes to proceed with an unrestricted report, they would be talking to the civilian authorities, who would be the ones conducting the investigation.