ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 27, 2016 — The Defense Department’s campaign to combat sexual assault is moving forward as reflected in the steady submission of applications from sexual assault response coordinators and sexual assault prevention and response victim advocates for accreditation through the DoD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program, Pentagon officials observed recently at the National Organization for Victim Assistance headquarters here.
Since 2012, NOVA has been contracted with the department to manage the certification process. The program professionalizes DoD sexual assault victim advocacy by ensuring that all response coordinators and victim advocates are equipped to provide victim-centered assistance to survivors, from initial report through case conclusion.
Dr. Margaret Harrell, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, conducted a site visit at NOVA on May 19. She met Richard Barajas — NOVA’s executive director, who is a retired chief justice of the 8th District Court of Appeals in Texas — and DoD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program committee members, and she toured an office humming with activity as committee members reviewed more than 3,000 applications received that quarter from military members and DoD civilians.
“Because the department takes so seriously the need to provide high-quality assistance to victims, it’s tremendously important for us to ensure that we have the right individuals as SARCs and SAPR VAs and that they are trained, credentialed, and certified to the standards that are recognized as the very best,” Harrell said.
Sexual assault response coordinators and sexual assault prevention and response victim advocates certified through the DoD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program join a rising cadre of professional advocates who uphold the highest standards of care and privacy and are dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault begin their path to healing, officials said.
Selection and Certification
All military and DoD civilian response coordinators and victim advocates must be certified through DoD’s certification program to provide sexual assault victim advocacy services.
Throughout the process, sexual assault response coordinators and sexual assault prevention and response program managers serve as key sources of information and guidance, even assisting applicants to ensure accuracy and completion of their application packages.
Applications are collected on a quarterly basis, with the next submission deadline scheduled for July 31.
Advancing Victim Support
Hughey said she has noticed a tidal change in the candor and open discussion about sexual assault, dialogue she said has shed much-needed light on the issue.
“We’re seeing people share stories and even singers – such as Lady Gaga – write songs about their experiences as sexual assault survivors. This is creating a greater impetus for organizations and people to get involved and come alongside victims of sexual assault,” Hughey said. “Certified victim advocates can be the voice for a survivor when that person may not yet have the strength or the courage to speak up.”
Hughey said she hopes that victim advocacy can become more commonplace.
“If I was talking to you at a party and you asked me what I did and I replied, ‘I’m a victim advocate,’ you would know exactly what that means,” Hughey said. “It would be as if I said I was a nurse or a social worker or a doctor.”