What to do if you’re sexually assaulted in the military: Active Duty

gettyimages 480253832 What to do if youre sexually assaulted in the military: Active Duty

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

By Abigail Hartley

So, you’re in the military, and you’ve become a survivor of sexual violence. Let’s walk through what you can do next.

The first thing you need to think about is a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE). This will result in a Restricted Report, but as we’ll discuss, that’s nothing to be scared of. It’s really important to have a nurse or doctor look at you ASAP, both to look at your mental state and to document any physical harm. Even if it’s been a few days, the physician can still find evidence of trauma, and evidence can only help you.

Next, if you’re not ready to spring into legal action just yet, that’s okay—take the time you need to process what happened. Learn your rights as a survivor of sexual trauma. Definitely talk to somebody you trust, keeping in mind that some of the people in your life might be mandatory reporters because of their jobs. A non-military friend or relative might be best in this instance.

When you’re ready to start thinking about how you want to move forward, you’ve got a couple options.

Are you interested in making an official report? Awesome idea. There are two ways you can report in the military: an Unrestricted Report and a Restricted Report. Any kind of reporting will automatically put you in touch with a SAPR Victim Advocate, who will explain your options and give you advice throughout your process.

A Restricted Report:

  • Is only open to Active Duty military and adult dependents (spouses), not DoD civilian employees or contractors
  • Starts when you tell a SARC (Sexual Assault Response Coordinator), a SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) Victim Advocate, or a medical care professional about what happened
  • Will make sure you get medical care, mental health care, and a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) if you haven’t already had one
  • Will give you access to legal advice from a Special Victim’s Counsel
  • Lets the installation commander know that “an assault” has occurred, plus some other non-identifying details, while keeping your name totally confidential
  • Does NOT give you any power to keep your perpetrator away from you via protective orders or transferring
  • Can be turned into an Unrestricted Report if and when you decide to make that move

An Unrestricted Report:

  • Allows you to apply for a military protective order and/or an Expedited Transfer, which Restricted Reporting does not
  • Starts when:
    • You tell any of the people in the Restricted Report list and specify that you want to file an Unrestricted Report
    • You tell a Commander
    • You tell Law Enforcement or Military Criminal Investigations Office (MCIO)
  • Gives you all the same privileges as a Restricted Report
  • Begins a criminal investigation into your assault that, if successful, will end up in courts martial
  • Entitles you to at least monthly updates on the status of “investigative, prosecution, or command proceedings regarding the sexual assault,” until the “final disposition” of the case (e.g. the ultimate action in the case, which could include no action)

If you’re more of a visual person, here’s a flowchart with most of that info.

Depending on how you’d like to handle the situation, each kind of reporting provides you with different options. Maybe you won’t choose to report at all, or maybe you’ll choose to report a while later. Those are okay choices too, but keep in mind that the longer you wait to file a report, the harder it’ll be to prove your case in court.

You also want to remember that reporting gives you access to the mental health care and guidance you need. There’s even sort of self-help course you can complete through the DoD’s Safe Helpline called “Building Hope & Resiliency: Addressing the Effects of Sexual Assault.”

Whatever you decide to do, remember that you did not deserve or ask for what happened. Some people, unfortunately, may try to make you feel that way to get you to back down. You deserve help, you deserve to live without fear, and you deserve justice—even if it inconveniences other people.

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