Victim advocates; helping survivors, spreading SAAP awareness

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The Department of Defense has a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault. While this policy is in place, instances of sexual assault and harassment still happen and, in response, procedures and resources are being established for victims. One resource available through the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office is a volunteer victim advocate.

VVAs are nationally certified, highly trained individuals committed to assisting sexual trauma survivors following a report, providing resources and support as long as needed. Currently, 11 Airmen across Team Tyndall hold this title.

“VVAs are the heart and soul of our program,” said Christine McGill, 325th Fighter Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. “VVAs work directly with survivors to ensure they are getting their needs met at a time that works for that individual. There is absolutely no way the SARC or full-time SAPR VA could handle the workload that the volunteer victim advocates take on.”  

The SAPR office, SARC and VVAs collaborate with several helping agencies on Tyndall including mental health, equal opportunity, chaplain corps and more. Additionally, the SAPR office works with local emergency room and trauma centers available to assist the base with victims.

“This collaboration creates relationships where we trust one another and can relay that informational trust to our victims,” said McGill. “Instead of just providing a name and phone number…we do a warm hand off, meaning we travel to the agency and physically introduce the member to the other helping agency. Better yet, we can also follow-up to ensure that helping agency was right for the needs of that victim.”

The SAPR office and VVAs maintain confidentiality within the program thus they do not report information revealed to them without the consent of the survivor. SAPR’s role is to provide support and resources to the survivor rather than ask questions about the incident or influence them.

“Something I think everyone should heed is don’t push victims to report,” said Senior Airman Jordyn Jones, 337th Air Control Squadron weapons simulation technician and VVA. “I think a lot of people want to bring [perpetrators] to justice, but you need to take the victim’s feelings into consideration.”

In addition to an application process through the SARC, VVAs attend 40 hours of initial training before being recommended for certification. VVAs must complete 32 hours of continuous education in the following two years in order to reapply for certification.

VVAs spread education and awareness by educating service members on topics such as consent and alcohol misconceptions.

Some victim advocates are also trauma survivors as well and want to help others navigate whatever the future holds for that particular person.

VVAs are an optional resource to any survivor who files a restricted or unrestricted report. A VVA listens, advocates for resources and may accompany the survivor to any meeting including with leadership, investigations and medical at the survivor’s request. The VVA cannot speak on legalities or investigations, but a VVA is there to support through the process.

McGill does her best to match survivors with advocates who fit the survivor’s personality and needs for those who choose to utilize that resource.

“Please come and talk to me,” said McGill. “If I can’t help you in my area, I’m going to know [which] resource to provide to you and I will walk with you there, every step of the way.”

Tyndall’s SAPR office is located in Bldg. 662, on the second floor.

For more information, contact Tyndall’s SAPR office at (850) 283-3373 or the Tyndall SAPR Hotline at (850) 625-1231. Also, the Department of Defense Safe Helpline is a 24/7 resource available at (877) 995-5247.