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Local SAPR Coordinators Provide Advocacy for Sailors in Need

Article By: MC3 Danica Sirmans

A pillar of the Navy’s comprehensive Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program is to provide compassionate advocacy to Sailors and civilian personnel in times of need. At the local command level, this has led to the designation of two allies for active duty and civilian personnel stationed at NPS, and all tenant activities within the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Monterey umbrella.

Heather Ruppert-Cleary, Education Services Facilitator at NSA Monterey’s Fleet and Family Support Center, also serves as the installation’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), and along with Advocacy Support Specialist Katherine Chevalier, provides the front lines of defense in combating sexual assault at the local level.

“I provide oversight and consultation to the command and its program to make sure everything is in compliance,” said Ruppert-Cleary. “I train all of the victim advocates, and I provide training to the unit as well. There have been many new changes to the program.”

One of the most significant changes Ruppert-Cleary pointed to is the comprehensive approach to training and accountability across all levels, from junior Sailors to senior leadership.

“There is now more training for higher leadership versus just the junior enlisted,” Ruppert-Cleary said. “The past training was great, because it was targeted to the core of the problem, but what about how a command deals with the problem?  What about the command’s climate?

“It needs to start from higher up and be all-encompassing, it can’t be just one-sided,” she continued.  “We’re also training civilians in sexual assault prevention as well. It’s becoming a broader campaign, and we’re holding all perpetrators accountable,” said Ruppert-Cleary.

 Fleet and Family Support Center staff Heather Ruppert-Cleary, left, and Katherine Chevalier, right, provide the front lines of defense for the Navy’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program across NPS and all Naval Support Activity Monterey tenant activities.

A relatively unique addition to the resources available to NSA Monterey personnel is a civilian advocate for assault victims. “I’ve found that some victims may be hesitant to come forward because their uniformed victim advocate may be in their chain of command,” Ruppert-Cleary said, noting Chevalier provides a different perspective to the support services provided.

“For this installation, I’m the first Navy civilian victim advocate,” said Chevalier. “The vision for my role is to be there for the dependents that experience this kind of trauma, as well as providing a different outlet to service members that they may be more confortable with.”

The civilian victim advocate position is a new addition to the SAPR program established this year. Chevalier says her prior experience as a domestic violence advocate helped provide a natural transition into this new role.

Overall, Ruppert-Cleary says that the re-energized focus on sexual assault prevention and training, for all personnel, has led to a much improved and more comprehensive support system for the command.

“The new additions to the SAPR program are more effective because it is encompassing on a larger scale … It’s holding people accountable and it’s more relevant,” she said. “Sexual assault prevention has been more emphasized by society, by the military, and by leadership. It’s about changing a culture from having a negative stigma, to being supported and able to talk about it.”

The bottom line, she adds, is that, “If you are a victim of sexual assault, your command and this program are going to support you.”

Posted August 22, 2013

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