Commentary

February 28, 2013

Becoming a support system

Commentary by Senior Airman Camilla Griffin
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

When I decided to attend Victims Advocate training I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to help victims because, as a big sister, I always worry about my three little sisters’ safety.

One of my sisters is in her first year of college, another is going to college this fall and the last is in her first couple of years of high school. I am always worried that they do not have someone at home to protect them now that I am far away. I also have a little cousin, who is only a few years younger than me. I worry about her safety as well, because we grew up together. All of them are beautiful young women who have been sheltered from things I have seen and experienced.

During the first day of training, I watched a documentary about military members who were raped and what happened to them. The documentary is called “The Invisible War”, and it was intense. As a woman in the service, what I learned about these victims hurt me. It honestly scared me. I was taken aback by what happened and how their reports were treated.

When women sign up for the service, they take as much pride in serving as a man does. They are excited and proud to serve their country; maybe even a little bit more than men, since originally women couldn’t serve. However, when female military members are assaulted, they quickly lose faith in their branch.

I know I am very proud to put this uniform on every day, but after seeing the documentary and how those women were treated, I was ashamed. How can something I stand for, am so proud of, not care or do anything about it? The victims’ reports were not taken seriously, and they were told they brought this on themselves. The documentary brought tears to my eyes several times.

The Department of Defense does not have a registry for offenders and, unless they spend at least a year in confinement and are discharged, offenders are not put on the national registry for sexual offenders. People get kicked out immediately for drugs and underage drinking, but with sexual assault it is such a ‘he-said-she-said situation’ that some perpetrators get a slap on the wrist and go back to work while the “witness” gets paperwork or released from active duty.

If people just ignore it because it is a touchy subject it does not mean it is going to go away.

I spoke to some people and explained my frustration. They asked me how I was going to deal with it when people I am helping are not taken serious or do not go to court. My answer was I do not know, but I am going to do it anyway, because it is not about me. I cannot just sit back and not help people when there is a possibility that one day it could be me or someone I know in that position.

I feel like when I started this training it was for personal gain, but in that first day of training before lunch it changed. I feel the need to help someone. I have to stand up for these victims. I can feel a pain that doesn’t amount to theirs, and if I am hurting, I can only imagine how they feel. If my soul feels cracked from learning about these tragic stories and experiences, how do their souls feel from going through it?

We also learned about domestic violence. I discovered that there are different categories and stages that predators use to their advantage. A light bulb went off in my mind. I started to recall memories of domestic abuse I had witnessed or been a victim of. At the time, I knew something was wrong, but I could not figure it out. I could not give it a title.

I believe that adolescents would benefit greatly from this training. Our trainers gave tips for how to spot warning signs in those around us, like threats to an individual’s pets or threats towards a woman’s pregnancy. This advice made me realize how many women do not even realize they are victims until it’s too late. They have no idea that there are many resources available to them. There has to be a way to get this message out.

When people are sexually assaulted, it affects everyone not just the victim. The victim’s family and friends are affected as well. Some victims even think of suicide. Support systems are just as vital for victim advocates as they are for the victims. It is important to have a resource when you are in a position like this. You are a victim’s go to person. You have the knowledge they need. You provide them with a level of security. Let’s face it, depending on who assaulted them, they may not trust their leadership or the people they work with.

By the last day of training, the days were not so heavy. It was lighter and there were actual laughs and smiles. Our trainer wanted to get the difficult topics out the way, and by the end of the week we were not so gloomy.

In a week’s worth of training, I learned more about sexual assault, domestic abuse, and myself than I had expected. It was an extremely emotional week but well worth it, because if I can help one person survive an attack and recover from it, then that is one more person who can move on with their life and share their story and help others.




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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Betty R. Chevalier)

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