Kentucky taking lead in sexual assault awareness and prevention

Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Maj. John Harvey is the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Kentucky National Guard. “If you’re victimized come forward,” he says. “Our subject matter expertise is among the top in the nation and we are here to protect your rights.” (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Media coverage of sexual harassment and assaults has steadily increased across the nation in recent months.  What starts out as a personal, intimate incident — usually between two people — has  proven susceptible to the wildfire fanned by social media and the 24 hour news cycle, especially when it involves celebrities, institutions of higher learning and the military.

The truth is, sadly enough, sexual assault in the military is nothing new.   The good news is that awareness and training to combat this threat are on the rise, which ironically leads to an increase in reports.

But that’s a good thing, says Charles Lay, Victim Advocate Coordinator for the Kentucky National Guard.

“According to the Rand Corporation, it used to be that only one in ten sexual assaults in the military were reported,” said Lay.  “The most recent figures show that it’s now one in four.”

SafeHelpline_MilitaryThe reason that’s good news, according to Lay, is that victims are more confident that the system works and their voices will be heard.

“It shows that our program is working and that our troops are getting the message,” he says.  “You won’t find  numbers like that in the civilian sector.”

Maj. John Harvey agrees.  Harvey is the sexual assault response coordinator for the Kentucky Guard, which puts him on the hot seat when it comes to providing a safe environment for our troops.

“We’ve made a generation’s worth of changes in a matter of two or three years,” said Harvey.  “Just in the past year alone we’ve received well over a hundred policy changes.  It’s hard for our leaders to keep up with it.  So it’s up to our office to raise awareness and get the word out there.”

Harvey takes his responsibilities to the men and women of the Kentucky National Guard seriously.  He was recently awarded his Level II certification by the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, making him one of 27 people in the entire National Guard to be so recognized.  What this means is that he’s put in the time and has experience in working actual sexual assault cases and providing services to victims.  And that, in turn, shows growth in Kentucky’s program.

“I think we’re ahead of other states on these matters,” said Harvey.  “The state leadership is taking this seriously.  For instance, one of the best moves we’ve made is hiring a dual status technician to work as our full-time permanent sexual assault response coordinator.  That sends out a powerful message.”

Still, there are challenges, such as dispelling the long held myth that all victims of sexual harassment and assault are female.

“The secretary of defense came out with guidance that involved getting more male victims to come forward, and we’ve pushed this out through our command channels,” said Harvey.  “That’s actually been an issue here in Kentucky and we hit it head on.”

Educating the staff and the troops is key to the success of the program.  Harvey recognizes that military leadership, especially at the individual unit level, is overtasked with responsibilities of running the units.  That, plus the troops are focusing on readiness training.

“Everyone recognizes the problem and wants to do the right thing,” said Harvey.  “I think it’s amazing that they get done what they can.

“Our goal here is to raise awareness, educate and ensure the availability of services to all survivors of sexual assault.  If you’re victimized, come forward.  Our subject matter expertise is among the top in the nation and we are here to protect your rights.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual harassment or assault, reach out for help.

Click here for assistance and contacts for assistance.

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