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Victim advocates are here for you

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Flashbacks of a living nightmare haunt an Airman in the middle of the night. The face of the person who defiled them is burned into their mind.

This Airman is not alone. When an Airman is assaulted, representatives of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocacy program are available to assist 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Team Shaw’s 17 victim advocates know all too well the hurt people go through after an assault and spread the word about the SAPR program every way they can.

“The purpose of the Victim Advocacy Program is to be there for any victim or survivor of sexual assault from the time they report the assault until the trial, if it goes to trial,” Monica Murray, 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron lead transportation assistant and 20th Fighter Wing victim advocate. “We’re there every step of the way in a non-clinical way. We don’t do counseling. We’re just there to help them through the process, answer any questions they may have or just there as support.”

Volunteers go through an elaborate screening and certification process in order to provide the best service to victims. This includes an interview with the SARC, attending 40-hour training and obtaining a Department of Defense Sexual Assault Advocate Certification that they need to renew every two years.

Murray said she has been a victim advocate since 2014, and started because she wanted to help Airmen and make the biggest impact throughout the wing. She wanted to be there for the wing and let victims know they have someone who they can come and talk to whenever they need to.

The most recent report on sexual assault in the military states the DOD received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects of criminal investigation, 5,864 of those cases involved service members as victims.

“Hopefully, we can eventually go years without any victims,” said Murray. “The goal is for nobody to need us.”

While many may assume the victims to be women, approximately 20 percent of the reports in 2017 were from men, according to Dr. Nathan W. Galbreath, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office deputy director.

“The most difficult part of being a VA is seeing our Airmen hurt,” Murray said. “Meeting that victim wherever he or she is and knowing they have been affected in such a huge and negative way is awful.”

She continued to say sexual assault not only affects the victim, but those they are closest to. It affects their work center, their relationships and their family.

“It’s just such a horrible situation to be put in, but I also see the great moment when the victim becomes the survivor,” said Murray. “I get to see when they are able to push forward and come out on top.”

Victim advocates dedicate themselves to each victim to ensure they receive or continue to receive the care and support they need until support is no longer needed.

“If anyone would like to become a VA, I advise them to really think hard about if this is something they really want to do because it is very tough work; there are good days and some really bad days, and it can take a lot out of you,” Murray said. “It’s exciting because you get to help people when they are hurt, but it can get very difficult and it takes a lot of your time.”

For more information about the SAPR VA program or to report a sexual assault, contact the SAPR office, located in building 1118, at (803) 895-1103 or the 24/7 hotline at (803) 895-7272.