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News | Feb. 18, 2022

SAPR enhances victim support with expert-driven training

By Jason Kaneshiro DCMA Eastern Region Public Affairs

Sexual assault can happen in any workplace and the trauma from such an event can linger long after the incident.

Defense Contract Management Agency prioritizes mitigating the sexual assault threat through its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.

One of the program’s efforts focuses on continued training for DCMA employees who volunteer as victim advocates.

Victoria Wright, assistant counsel at DCMA Philadelphia, volunteered to lead a SAPR training session for victim advocates agency-wide. The training was provided to the agency’s certified victim advocates and to those who are seeking to become advocates.

“Prior to joining DCMA in November 2019, I was an active duty judge advocate with the U.S. Air Force,” Wright said. “From 2015 to 2017, I was a Special Victims’ Counsel, stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.”

As a Special Victims’ Counsel, Wright represented the legal interests of victims of sexual assault.

“My clients were primarily active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve personnel or dependents of active duty Air Force members, and I had clients located around the world,” Wright said.

Wright said her supervisor at DCMA knew of this background and thought she would be a good candidate to provide timely training to the SAPR victim advocates. 

“We wanted to provide training about both the (Department of Defense) programs for legal representation of certain victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, as some DCMA employees might be eligible for legal representation, depending on the circumstances,” Wright said. “We also wanted to provide an overview of the criminal court system for civilian proceedings and how victim advocates can help guide DCMA employees through that process.”

Wright said the training provides a broad overview of the criminal justice system and the times where a victim of an alleged sexual assault is likely to be involved.  She said she wanted to give the victim advocates a broad understanding of the most common stages of the criminal law process that may follow a report of sexual assault — from the initial interviews with law enforcement all the way through a trial and sentencing hearing.

“I compared those stages for both DOD-investigated cases, as well as some discussion on civilian criminal courts,” Wright said. “We also discussed victim advocate and victim privileges so they could better understand how to provide confidential care and advice to victims of sexual assault.”

Victim advocates play a critical support role for victims of sexual assault, Wright said.

“Ensuring that our VAs are knowledgeable about other DOD programs, or where to find help for their clients outside the DOD, is key in ensuring they are there to help connect victims with resources for action, advocacy and healing,” Wright said.

Having subject matter experts assist in training provides a wider range of topics available to increase DCMA SAPR personnel's expertise and knowledge base. It also provides opportunities for collaboration across different functional areas and programs both within and outside of the agency, said Cheryl Hendrix, DCMA SAPR program manager.

“It opens up broader perspectives in our program and also widens avenues for understanding, collaboration, and support for our personnel,” Hendrix said. “It also allows for community outreach to create even more resources available for this program and, hopefully, a greater understanding of what the SAPR program is about and how we can help.”

DCMA personnel bring a valuable diversity of thought and experience to the table that has made the SAPR program stronger and broader in scope for the agency and its employees, Hendrix said.

“Victoria's training is one example of drawing on that diverse expertise and experience, to provide more understanding and insight into not just the SAPR program, but also an avenue for open dialogue,” Hendrix said. “To keep making our programs better, we collaborate as a group instead of remaining confined to ‘stovepipes’ within our agency.”

Hendrix said it was important for employees, and those outside of the agency, to understand that DCMA takes the threat of sexual assault seriously and that those acts will not be tolerated.

“Those are not just words. Leadership is 100% engaged in fighting sexual assault and any climate that is conducive to these incidents,” Hendrix said. “This is a community effort in trying to change a culture and prevent sexual assault from happening.”

The SAPR program was established in 2005 with the goal of a more pro-active approach to handling incidents of sexual assault within the Defense Department, as well as addressing the challenge of changing problematic parts of the culture and climate that had existed.

“We are making strides in that effort over these 16 years, but we want bystanders to get involved and to be a change agent by not accepting sexually charged behaviors and to get involved and take action.” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said that every employee has a role to play encouraging this culture shift.

“That’s why training, talking about this, and getting more SAPR personnel trained and available across our agency has been so important,” Hendrix explained. “We have more than doubled our volunteer SAPR personnel in the last three years and tried to make training more of a discussion and scenario based, compared to just putting words on slides.”

Hendrix said that she hopes that more people would ask her what they themselves can do to help.

“It’s about getting people involved in talking about sexual assault,” she said. “It’s a tough subject for many to talk about, but we need to talk about it.”

Andrea Benoit, counsel to DCMA Eastern Regional Command and Wright’s supervisor, said she believes that Wright succeeded in providing the instruction to the victim advocates in legal matters with the kind of care required of the subject.

“I attended Victoria's training, and she did an excellent job tackling a complicated and sensitive topic,” Benoit said. 

Wright said she thinks that working to ensure everyone has a safe workplace is incredibly important — both to take care of our employees as individuals, and also to ensure we remain focused on our ultimate mission.

“I hope the training was both informative and interesting, in that I wanted the VAs to see how critical their role is to an agency’s ‘response’ to sexual assault,” Wright said. “To me, the SAPR program presents a critical element in ensuring that employees are provided a safe environment, and that if there is a breakdown in safety, they receive appropriate skilled care and support.”