The Air Force Materiel Command Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program hosted a virtual sexual assault survivor panel on April 8.
The event was the second offering in a leadership series designed to equip leaders to better address sexual assault.
An organization called the Difference Makers (10 Strong) led the recovery/resiliency survivor panel, which was comprised of two male and a female survivor who addressed sexual assault from a victim’s perspective.
“The training was formulated to help leaders by equipping them with the know how to provide support to survivors as they move toward recovery,” said Yvonne Viel, AFMC Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program manager.
Part one of the series, held in December 2020, focused on the importance of building a positive working relationship between leaders and SAPR teams so they could better work together to create effective prevention strategies that foster a positive climate and culture to reduce instances of sexual assault.
Difference Makers (10 Strong) is dedicated to improving the culture in the communities they serve by creating active bystanders who can help combat domestic violence and sexual assault. Their professional backgrounds in criminal investigations, social-work services and advocacy – coupled with some of their personal experiences with victimization, aids them in supporting those who approach them in need.
The three-member panel shared recovery strategies that worked for them during their personal journey.
“Each survivor’s journey is different,” said Viel. “It’s difficult to get a survivor to the point where they are moving in that positive direction. All shared with the audience from the perspective of how leaders can help and how they could have helped survivors in their initial, immediate need.”
Edward “Obbie West” Wilson, an Army veteran who survived abuse with his literary voice intact, uses poems as a means of advocating. Wilson opened the virtual panel with a poem about the recovery journey of survivors.
“I often imagine a perfect world where every abled body is an advocate, where a person reporting an accusation isn’t regarded as an inconvenience,” said Wilson.
Following the telling of individual stories, a question and answer period provided an opportunity for the virtual audience to ask questions of the panel members, stimulating thoughtful discussion. One question covered the value of having an advocate with a military background, especially when dealing with service processes.
“The reporting of an incident and the eventual outcome of any legal action is different within the military,” said Eric Barreras, a child sexual abuse/sexual assault survivor, U.S. Army veteran, former Criminal Investigation Command investigator, and the founder and CEO of the Difference Makers (10 Strong).
Leveraging the expertise of SAPR experts within the service can help victims get the support they need while creating better understanding of how the military justice system operates in these situations, he said.
For Maj. Hali Picciano, a sexual assault/domestic violence survivor and U.S. Army veteran, one cannot underestimate the importance of having relationships with people and leaders, even when in a new place, because support is needed for recovery.
“The hardest thing for me to learn was that during my 20-year career, I would almost certainly run into people or even my abuser, who knew me then and knows what happened to me. Knowing there were also co-workers and supervisors who knew and supported helped me get through,” she said.
For Timothy Jones, being able to forgive the abuser was the determining factor, and ultimately the key, to his recovery.
“I had become drug and alcohol dependent. It was challenging getting to a place where I could forgive my abuser because I was mad at me,” said Jones.
Advocates are an essential part of the support team for individuals at all points of their recovery. Barreras suggests leaders be mindful of who can best field positions as victim advocates.
“Leaders should have a conversation with individuals being considered for the position,” he said.
Supervisors, victim advocates, co-workers, team members and others can make up the support team which empowers the abused victim as he or she begins the journey of recovery and resiliency.
More information on Difference Makers (10 Strong) and the programs they support is available at dm10strong.com.