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Speak up for sexual assault

Speak up for sexual assault

Clothes hang on a clothesline in honor of sexual assault victims in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, April 10, 2018. The clothes were created as a part of the Clothesline Project, a national movement dedicated to raising awareness about the reality of sexual violence in American society. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

Approximately 481,000 Americans are sexually assaulted every year. Of those, 18,900 occur within the Armed Forces, according to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network website.

Although the amount of sexual assaults in the United States has fallen more than half since 1993, April was designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in 2001 to help spread awareness and encourage people to speak up.

“The whole purpose of this month is to make sure victims know that they’re not alone,” said 1st Lt. Holly Schlotfeldt, 5th Bomb Wing deputy sexual assault response coordinator. “We want them to know that we believe them and it’s okay to talk about it.”

The SAPR office has been proactive in spreading the word about sexual assault and prevention. Aside from their usual items offered year round, they’ve placed SAPR items in commonly visited locations around base for the month of April.

They’ve supplied the Commissary with SAPR grocery bags and coffee sleeves to B-Fifty Brew and the Kaffee Kiosk, as well as placed informational pamphlets at the Base Exchange and dining facility.

They have also adopted the Clothesline Project, a national movement dedicated to raising awareness about the reality of sexual violence in our society. The clothesline is hung with shirts, each uniquely decorated to represent the victim’s experiences. At Minot Air Force Base, the SAPR office has also allowed supporters of sexual assault victims to decorate and display shirts on the clothesline.

They will have an open house for base personnel at their office, building 168, April 16 from 8-10 a.m. Their goal is to ensure victims know their office location so they may speak to a victim advocate in the case of a sexual assault.

“With this open house, we are essentially showing people that our location is a safe space to speak openly and freely about what has happened to or around them,” said Donita Theiler, 5th Bomb Wing sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate.

There are many short and long term effects of sexual assault that affect the mind, body and spirit, Schlotfeldt said. Victims may suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, creating problems with differentiating what’s right or wrong and blaming themselves for everything.

“We have resources to help victims,” added Theiler. “Sexual assault victims are assigned victim advocates to be there through every step of recovery as requested.”

The SAPR office allows victims to file restricted or unrestricted reports.

Restricted reports are confidential. This means they do not trigger an investigation or command involvement while allowing the victim access to the special victims’ legal counsel as well as advocacy, medical and counseling services.

Unrestricted reports start an official law enforcement investigation, enlist the support of the victim’s chain of command and provide a victim with access to services. In addition, the victim can obtain a military protective order and an expedited transfer to another location, if necessary. Knowledge of the sexual assault is limited to those with a need-to-know basis.

A victim can choose to convert a restricted report to unrestricted at any time, but once an unrestricted report is made, the restricted report is no longer an option.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, please contact the 24/7 crisis hotline at 701-340-8882.

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