SAPR: 15 years of serving sexual assault survivors

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Malissa Lott
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Many Airmen in today’s Air Force are familiar with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. SAPR has offices throughout the Air Force led by coordinators and volunteer victim advocates.

What some Airmen aren’t familiar with is the long history of the SAPR program.

In 2004, 15 years ago this month, former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld directed a review of the Department of Defense’s process for treatment and care of victims of sexual assault in the military services. This led to the Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force.

“The service chiefs were mandated to establish respective service SAPR programs to streamline the myriad of sexual assault victim recovery services,” said Mark Miller, 39th Air Base Wing SAPR victim advocate.

The task force found the need to create a single point of accountability for sexual assault policy.

In 2005, a comprehensive policy on prevention and response to sexual assault was presented to Congress. It provided a foundation for the DOD to improve not only the prevention of sexual assault but also the support to victims and increase reporting and accountability.

The task force then provided instruction to more than 1,200 Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs), chaplains, lawyers and law enforcement to create a cadre of trained first responders. In addition, the military services trained more than 1,000,000 service members and established sexual assault program offices at all major installations.

All this helped build the SAPR program into what the Air Force knows today.

For 15 years, the SAPR program has worked to provide care, support and a safe avenue for survivors to report harassment and assault.

According to, there are two different reporting options for

survivors: restricted and unrestricted, both of which provide a multitude of support options for anyone reporting.

Restricted reporting gives victims access to healthcare (medical and mental health), advocacy services and legal advice from a Special Victims' Counsel without notifying command or law enforcement officials. The SARC will notify the installation commander that an assault has occurred and provide very limited details that don’t include identifying details of the victim.

Unrestricted reporting is an option for victims who desire an official investigation and command notification in addition to healthcare, victim advocacy and legal services.

Additionally, restricted reports can be made unrestricted at the request of the victim. But after an unrestricted report is made, it cannot be made restricted.

Not only does the program offer services to victims, but they also provide training to work centers to prevent harassment and assaults and build safe work environments.

“Every Airman has the potential to prevent and eliminate sexual assault more effectively than I ever could,” said Miller. “Airmen work and operate where the subtle seeds of sexual assault [can be] sowed through escalating inappropriate behaviors and attitudes. Airmen can stop it through modeling appropriate behaviors and by living the Air Force’s core values.”

Miller also said there are approximately 25 active volunteer victim advocates (VVA) at Incirlik AB throughout the calendar year. VVAs receive their certification after a 40-hour course.

“They’re the critical element of the SAPR program, especially for the DOD 24/7 victim response mandate,” Miller continued. “VVAs are recruited, vetted, specifically trained and credentialed to respond upon notification of a sexual assault and provide assistance to include a non-clinical safety assessment.”

VVAs also provide referrals and non-clinical support to adult survivors of sexual assault throughout the life cycle of the open sexual assault case. These volunteers liaise with the SARC on a frequent and recurring basis to provide updates, receive supervision and ensure that all victims’ needs are being met appropriately.

“My decision to work with the SAPR program came from wanting to help people who were struggling through a situation as serious as sexual assault and felt they didn't have someone to support them,” said Tech.

Sgt. Nelvia Womble, 39th ABW SAPR VVA. “I remember feeling alone when I was in this type of situation myself and wish I had someone to help me through it.”

The sexual assault initial response protocol always includes support services from a Chaplain, Behavioral and Mental Health, and a Special Victim Counsel that have the potential to enhance favorable recovery outcomes.

“Depending on the needs of our client, we make sure we present them with the most up to date information from all supporting agencies,”

said 1st Lt. Manuel Garcia, 39th ABW SARC. “Depending on the situation, we might have to work with our (helping) agencies for last minute accommodations or inconspicuous appointments as needed.”

Garcia explained these helping agencies are all committed to working together to provide the best possible support to members stationed here at Incirlik AB.

“Prevention is a must,” said Garcia. “We can do that by teaching our population to care for one another by understanding and respecting each other’s boundaries and by being better wingmen.

“I can only hope to provide relentless support to our Airmen as they navigate their life after a traumatic event,” said Garcia.

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