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NEWS | Nov. 4, 2010

SAPR conference focuses on awareness, moving forward

By Sgt. Darron Salzer, National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, - This week, leaders from the 54 states and territories came together here for the inaugural 2010 National Guard Bureau SAPR Leadership Summit to share thoughts, concerns and ideas about sexual assault prevention and response in the National Guard and the other military services.

"The purpose of the conference is to bring together senior leaders and their sexual assault response coordinators (SARC) together," said Army Lt. Col. Alfranda Durr, chief of the National Guard Bureau SAPR office, "to create and enhance awareness of sexual assault, and to develop plans to move forward [with their program] in their state."

"We've brought together some outstanding subject matter experts to come and share information to broaden the awareness of folks, so they can develop a plan of action, go back to their states and develop comprehensive plans to reduce or eliminate assault in their commands," said Durr. "But more importantly, we want them to be able to provide support to victims and their families from what they learn here."

Many of the conference speakers said sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in not only the nation, but also in the military.

The military is a cross section of the civilian community, and the unique environment in which it operates can present challenges when it comes to combating issues that are carried over from the civilian world.

"One of our challenges is creating that safe environment where servicemembers feel comfortable to say that they've been assaulted," said Durr.

"What's unique about the military though, is that we're all about warrior ethos and supporting one another," he said. It's almost like having a family member violate you when it happens, and because we're military, we need to be able to trust the person the left and right of each other even more so."

This is not the first time that members from the SAPR community have come together to share ideas and voice concerns.

"This is the first senior leader conference, but we've had other training conferences for the SARCs and wing SARCs in the Air Guard," said Durr. "However, this conference is more geared towards the command aspect of the program and how to implement those plans of action."

"We really want the states to learn from one another, and take away the best practices, so that they can develop a plan in their state, territory and District of Columbia that meets their needs."

Durr added that there really is no standard program in the National Guard. The states and territories decide how they want to approach sexual assault prevention and response.

"Each state develops their own program, with the adjutants general and senior leadership being that states board of directors, so what we hope to do is give them some parameters and some minimum things that need to be done," he said.

"The National Guard is a place that embodies the community and its values," said Durr. "Sexual assault is a serious issue, and we want people to know that the Guard is a safe place to be ... and serve."