Raising the voice of the unheard
The Department of Defense, Air Force and Sexual Assault Prevention Response teams are working to make male victims more comfortable to report sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Sarah Denewellis)
Editor’s Note: The Victim Advocate’s identity has been protected in this article due to sensitive personal information.
Bravery: courageous behavior or character.
Strength: the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.
These are often characteristics associated with being a man. They are also characteristics of those who choose to report acts of sexual assault. In a survey conducted by the Department of Defense, only 10 percent of male victims report a sexual assault.
Studies show that men choose not to report a sexual assault for fear they will face disbelief, victim blaming and reprisal if they choose to report. The same study also states that many men in the military who experience sexual assault do not necessarily perceive the act as “sexual,” they perceive their experience more as a cultural norm than sexual misconduct.
The DoD as well as the Air Force are working to educate the populous on the difference between acts like hazing, which is meant to humiliate or degrade an individual, and sexual assault, which is a crime.
After attending a Sexual Assault Prevention Response conference, Lydia Leasher, 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, SAPR Victim’s Advocate, began working to implement the, “You Are Not Alone,” campaign at Spangdahlem AB. The campaign is geared toward reaching male victims of sexual assault in a more discreet and less intimidating way.
“During an annual SAPR training conference there was a briefer speaking about male victimization and the brief was so inspiring,” Leasher said. “There’s a lack of exposure on male victimization. This type of information is something the SAPR community needs. I was able to use her information and tweak it in a way that was more fitting to the Spangdahlem community.”
With the help and approval of the 52nd FW leadership team, Leasher was able to develop her campaign and bring it to the base. Utilizing American Forces Network Spangdahlem, Leasher and the SAPR VA team created radio commercials that play year-round. The SAPR team has also placed “You Are Not Alone,” marketing tables and posters around Spangdahlem AB.
During the holiday season Leasher distributed informative flyers and pamphlets to the junior enlisted Airmen’s living quarters, including in the kitchen areas, laundry and common rooms.
“A study conducted by a stateside male victim crisis center showed that if male victims are able to see something like a flyer or poster that says they’re not in it alone, they’re 80 percent more likely to report,” said Leasher.
It was a similar flyer that caught Sgt. Advocate’s attention, but for him becoming a SAPR VA was never a choice, it was a calling.
“I felt a strong calling in my heart to become a Victim’s Advocate,” Sgt. Advocate said. “I was sexually assaulted as a child by a family friend. Growing up in the 1980s, I had no support from family or friends and the attack was swept under the rug. It was more of an embarrassment for my parents than anything worth reporting.”
Sgt. Advocate admits that balancing his career as a U.S. Airman and being a VA is stressful, but he believes it is an important service to provide to other male victims who may have faced the same issues as him. He is an advocate to help change the stigma of male reporting. His work is about being there for victims, helping them return to a sense of normalcy.
“The feedback that we always get is that the SAPR program is more ‘male blaming’ while promoting female victims,” Leasher said. “But the SAPR team wants to change that stigma. We want to be a safe place, a support system for all victims, male or female.”
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