USA: NH Jacksonville Joins Raising Sexual Assault Awareness

On April 25, Naval Hospital (NH) Jacksonville held a “Take Back the Night” event in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Take Back the Night is a time to come together as a community to speak out against sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual abuse and all forms of sexual violence.

The evening ceremony, at the hospital flag pole, included NH Jacksonville Commanding Officer Capt. Gayle Shaffer, Executive Officer Capt. Christine Sears, Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville Executive Officer Capt. Roy Undersander and victim advocates from NAS Jacksonville. Dozens of people participated, holding candles in honor of survivors. The event included music, poetry, a silent tribute to victims and sexual assault awareness information.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes. These statistics don’t include survivors who don’t seek help.

The U.S. military is far from immune to sexual violence. An estimated 19,000 sexual assaults occur in the military each year, but only about 2,500 are reported.

 “It has no place in the United States military, and certainly not at Naval Hospital Jacksonville,” declared Shaffer. “It is a violation of everything we stand for and it is an affront to the values we defend. I want every victim to know that the Navy is here to care for you and to support you. We are committed to showing you our solidarity as you heal and become a survivor.”

An assault victim’s life is forever changed by violence. Also it causes a ripple effect that can touch the victim’s family, friends and his or her whole community. Too often, the abused remain silent-ashamed to speak out about their experiences. Take Back the Night empowers victims to alter their trauma by reverencing the survivor experience while educating the community.

In her remarks, NAS Jacksonville Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Tina Vaughn recalled how she began as a volunteer with the Women’s Center of Jacksonville’s Rape Crisis Program. She has witnessed the renaissance of many victims-their self and their spirit.

 “I do not believe trauma, specifically sexual violence, has to mean that one moves forward as ‘less than’ what they have known themselves to be,” she said.

“I do this work because I am honored and privileged to hold space for what becomes a spiritual, physical, emotional and mental reckoning; because I do not believe in ‘ends.’ I believe in cycles, because I have witnessed enough women and men stand up after sexual violence, taller than they themselves ever imagined,” Vaughn concluded.

Sexual violence is a widespread issue affecting all populations regardless of gender, race, age or socioeconomic status. Most often, the offender is not a criminal in a dark alley, but rather a shipmate, neighbor, acquaintance, family member or intimate partner.

According to the Department of Defense Safe Helpline, there are many steps to reduce the risk of sexual assault. To practice risk reduction, both women and men can: be moderate if using alcohol, don’t leave a beverage unattended or accept open drinks from others, communicate limits clearly from the beginning, tell a close friend about plans if going out with a new person, have extra money to get home, end a situation if it’s uncomfortable, travel with friends and watch out for each other, be aware of surroundings, don’t get isolated with someone unknown, walk in lighted areas and keep doors and cars locked. And everyone has the right to say “no” even if they first say “yes,” have been kissing, have had sex before, and regardless of clothing type.

 “Every person in the United States Navy must be committed to eliminating sexual assault from our ranks,” affirms Shaffer. “Together, our goal is to prevent and respond to this crime in order to enable military readiness and to reduce-with a goal to eliminate-sexual assault from the military.”

Sexual Assault Prevention and Response is an important element of the readiness area of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative which consolidates a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, to maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness, build resiliency and hone the most combat-effective force in the history of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Department of the Navy is working to aggressively to prevent sexual assaults, to support sexual assault victims, and to hold offenders accountable.

Naval Today Staff, May 3, 2013