Sexual Assault

What is the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program?

Sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time. It can be overwhelming and devastating for victims and their families, but there are many resources available that provide accurate information, prompt medical care, counseling and assistance with the military justice system.

What is sexual assault?

Per DoD Directive 6495.01, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program, sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or spousal relationship or age of victim.

"Consent" means words or overt acts indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from a perpetrator's use of force, threat of force or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating relationship or the manner of dress of the person involved with the perpetrator does not constitute consent. There is no consent where the person is sleeping or incapacitated, such as due to age, alcohol or drugs, or mental incapacity.

As stated in the definition, the attacker does not have to use physical force to commit a sexual assault. The person may instead use threats or intimidation to make someone feel like he or she cannot say no. Sexual assault can also occur when someone is too drunk, drugged, unconscious, or otherwise mentally incapacitated to be able to agree to sexual contact. Most sexual assault victims do not physically fight off their attackers – a victim does not have to physically resist the attacker to demonstrate a lack of consent in a criminal case. Additionally, every state has its own laws about the age of consent for sexual contact, which may also be different from military law. Moreover, some countries define sexual assault differently than the United States does. Questions about what is and what isn't sexual assault can often be discussed with a helping professional.

What is the Department of Defense SAPR Program?

The DoD SAPR Program helps prevent sexual assault involving service members through training and education programs, treatment and support to victims of sexual assault, and military system accountability when sexual assaults are reported and investigated. The DoD SAPR Office serves as the military's single point of accountability on sexual assault policy matters. Additionally, each branch of Service has its own SAPR Office, which oversees and coordinates the SAPR activities within that Service. At the installation level, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators or victim advocates are available to work with victims and help them consider their options and learn more about their rights.

Who is eligible for services under the SAPR Program?

Generally, anyone who is entitled to receive care at a military treatment facility is eligible to receive treatment for sexual assault to include dependents. However, some groups are only able to report a sexual assault through one of the two available reporting options.

What options are available for someone who was sexually assaulted?

Sexual assault victims have the option to report the sexual assault through two different reporting options:

  • Restricted Reporting – Victims may disclose the sexual assault to the SARC, victim advocate, or a healthcare provider without a formal report being made to law enforcement or command. Victims receive appropriate medical care and are referred to a victim advocate for further services. The victim advocate provides information about reporting to command and will help the victim weigh the pros and cons of choosing to report at a later time.
  • Unrestricted Reporting – Victims who want to pursue an official investigation of the incident can elect the unrestricted reporting option and use current reporting channels, such as command, law enforcement or the SARC. There are exceptions to the restricted reporting option for victims, including when disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the safety of the victim or another individual.

The restricted reporting option is not available to DoD civilians or contractors. Any victim of sexual assault can receive medical treatment (with or without medical evidence collection) and counseling or victim advocacy for emotional support and information.

What are victim advocates and what do they do?

Victim advocates are available 24 hours a day through personal or telephonic contact to help victims of sexual assault consider their options and learn more about their rights, with the goal of ensuring victims are actively involved in all aspects of their safety and service plans. Victim advocacy services include:

  • Assessment of safety and assistance developing a safety plan
  • Assessment of medical needs, information about a sexual assault forensic examination and referral to medical care
  • Information about the installation's response to a report of sexual assault, including information about reporting options and the military disciplinary system
  • Comprehensive information and referral to military and civilian resources

Where should military dependents go for help or information?

Anyone who is entitled to care in a MTF is eligible for medical care following a sexual assault. In addition to treatment through the MTF, military dependents may also seek medical care through a civilian hospital, pursue a law enforcement investigation of the assault, contact the Family Advocacy Program or Children's Protective Services if the sexual assault involves a minor, contact a civilian rape crisis program, or contact social work services.

Where can I find more information on the SAPR Program?

Each branch of Service has its own SAPR Office, which oversees and coordinates SAPR activities.

  • DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office – The DoD SAPRO is responsible for oversight of the Department's sexual assault policy. More information is available at DoD SAPRO.
  • Army SAPR Program – The Army SAPR website provides comprehensive information about sexual assault awareness, prevention, and response as well as links to relevant Army policies and regulations.  More information is available atArmy SAPR.
  • Marine Corps SAPR Program – The Marine Corps SAPR serves as the focal point for coordinating all sexual assault prevention and response actions within the Marine Corps. More information is available at Marine Corps SAPR.
  • Navy SAPR Program – The Navy SAPR Program provides a comprehensive, standardized, victim-sensitive system to prevent and respond to sexual assault Navy-wide. More information is available at Navy SAPR.
  • Air Force SAPR Program – The DoD Safe Helpline provides worldwide live, confidential support, 24/7. You can access information about the prevention of and response to sexual assault on their website and by calling the hotline at 877-955-5247.
  • Coast Guard  SAPR Program – The U.S. Coast Guard Office of Work-Life Programs - SAPR Program provides information about the Coast Guard program, including the purpose of the program, eligibility requirements, and an explanation of services and resources available through the program. More information is available at Coast Guard SAPR.
  • National Guard SAPR Program – The National Guard SAPR website offers an overview of the program mission, goals, policy, upcoming trainings, hotline numbers and other links.  More information is available at National Guard SAPR.

The Impact of Sexual Assault

In the wake of experiencing a sexual assault, a person may experience a whole range of emotions from anger and fear to numbness and shame. Just as with any other trauma, the severity and duration of this reaction will vary from one individual to the next. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you might find it helpful or comforting to know what kinds of feelings are common among others who have been through the same thing. This information will help you better understand what to expect following a sexual assault and how you can seek help for yourself or someone else.

Following a sexual assault, a person may experience any of these reactions, or a combination of them:

  • Flashbacks (sudden, intense memories of the incident)
  • Sleep difficulties or nightmares
  • Change in appetite (victim either overeats or loses interest in food)
  • Poor focus or concentration, problems with memory
  • Avoidance of thoughts or talking about the incident; avoidance of reminders of the incident
  • Feelings of shame and self-blame, such as feeling responsible for the incident
  • Feeling sad, lonely, betrayed, or hopeless about the future
  • Increased problems with – or loss of interest in – friends, family and enjoyable activities
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Excessive concern about the security of one's environment
  • Mood swings (sudden, marked shifts from one emotional state to another)
  • Feeling numb or disconnected from others, physically or emotionally
  • Flashes of irritation, impatience or rage even in people who don't usually get angry
  • Increased use of alcohol, nicotine or other drugs
  • Either increased interest in or avoidance of sex

How sexual assault can affect your relationships

A sexual assault often affects not only the person who experienced it, but also everyone around him or her. Your feelings toward – or interactions with – other people may change in ways that you don't understand or can't fully explain. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you might recognize these common relationship changes:    

  • Conflict – Sometimes a sexual assault increases the potential for conflict between a victim and the people he or she cares about most. Friends and relatives may not know how to respond to behavior changes that occur in people who have experienced a sexual assault. They may worry that they'll say or do the wrong thing and make things worse. Conversely, they may not understand sexual assault and have unrealistic expectations about how someone should go through the healing process.
  • Problem feelings – Some sexual assault victims feel numb, depressed, or isolated from the people they love. This reaction may make victims appear cold or unfeeling to those who care about them. Victims may start using or increase their use of alcohol or drugs, which often contributes to other problem feelings and behaviors. Friends, family or co-workers may become angry or impatient with a sexual assault victim for not being his or her "usual self," so they may withdraw from the victim or seem to punish him or her in other ways. Others may try to make the victim "snap out of it," perhaps by smothering him or her with attention and well-intentioned suggestions.
  • Intimacy concerns – Sexual assault can make it harder to achieve intimacy. Some victims prefer not to be touched for a while, which may cause a partner or spouse to feel confused, sad, angry or hurt. A partner or spouse may also become frustrated by the rejection of their desire to be physically close to the victim. It may take time and professional help for couples to work their way through the effects of the assault and reestablish intimacy.

It is common for everyone to have one or more of these symptoms to some extent after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Severe reactions, however, such as thoughts of self-harm, should be reported immediately to a medical or mental health care provider. If other symptoms persist for many weeks or months, consider seeking professional help. Getting the help you need is one way to regain control of your life and an important first step to moving on and learning to enjoy life again. Military OneSource is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by phone at 800-342-9647 or online, to provide or connect you with counseling services or other forms of assistance. 

In addition, there is help available for anyone in the military community at DoD Safe Helpline.  Safe Helpline, 877-995-5247, is a groundbreaking crisis support service for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault. Safe Helpline provides live, one-on-one support, and information to the worldwide DoD community. The service is confidential, anonymous, secure, and available worldwide, 24/7 by click, call, or text — providing people with the help they need, anytime, anywhere.

Acknowledgement:  MilitaryOneSource.com

Office of Work-Life Programs - Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program (SAPR)


Glossary of Terms

Sexual Assault. “Sexual assault” is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy, and other unwanted indecent contact (e.g., kissing against another person’s will) that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (to include unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact), or attempts to commit these acts. “Consent” means words or overt acts indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of refusal or lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent (i.e., “No Means No”). Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the accused’s use of force, threat of force, or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. The victim’s lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from intoxication, from unconsciousness due to sleep or alcohol consumption, or from any other conditions which renders the person substantially incapacitated or substantially incapable of understanding the nature of the sexual act, declining participation in the act, or communicating unwillingness to engage in the sexual act does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating relationship shall not constitute consent. The manner of dress of the victim shall not constitute consent. (Note: These definitions are intended to be general descriptions used for training and educational purposes. Specific definitions of the elements of the sexual assault, sexual contact, and forcible sodomy offenses are found in Articles 120 and 125, UCMJ through the links below.)

UCMJ, Article 120. 
http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/MCM-2012.pdf (see page 352)

UCMJ, Article 125.
http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/MCM-2012.pdf (see page 368)

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to such conduct is made either implicitly or explicitly a term or condition of employment; submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions; such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment; and this definition also encompasses unwelcome display or communication of sexually offensive materials. Specific definitions of the elements of the sexual assault, sexual contact, and forcible sodomy offenses are found in Articles 120 and 125, UCMJ.

Bystander Intervention: Bystander Intervention is a strategy that motivates and mobilizes people to act when they see, hear, or otherwise recognize signs of an inappropriate or unsafe situation, to act and prevent harm. An active bystander is someone who helps prevent violence or gets involved when violence occurs. Active bystanders intervene to: (1) help someone who may be a target for sexual assault, or (2) prevent someone from becoming a perpetrator of sexual assault.

Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC): Coast Guard personnel, military or civilian employee, who is trained to ensure appropriate care is coordinated and provided to victims of sexual assault; in addition, tracks the services provided to a victim of sexual assault from the initial report through final disposition and resolution. If a dedicated SARC is not co-located (see note), serves as the central point of contact at the Command or within a geographic area to conduct all sexual assault awareness, prevention and response training. SARCs also train and oversee all Victim Advocates (VA) within their areas of responsibility. Note: SARCs are typically the EAPC in the cognizant Work-Life Regional Practice Office; Family Advocacy Specialist (FAS) are the backup SARCs.

Restricted Reporting: The Restricted Reporting option may be used by a service member or civilian spouse sexually assaulted by their active duty service member spouse to disclose to specific individuals on a confidential basis that he or she is the victim of a sexual assault. If the assault has been disclosed to ONLY a SARC, VA, or HCP, it shall not be reported to the chain of command or law enforcement, unless the victim consents or an established exception is exercised under COMDTINST M1754.10 (series).

Unrestricted Reporting: The Unrestricted Reporting option may be used by the service member to disclose to his or her chain of command that he or she is the victim of a sexual assault. “Service member” is defined as Coast Guard active duty members and Coast Guard reserve members on active duty or in a drill status, unless otherwise noted. Under the Unrestricted Reporting option, the victim’s report to command authorities or to a SARC, VA, HCP, or anyone else, shall be reported to CGIS. 

Victim Advocate (VA): A trained advocate for the victim; a person who can provide emotional support to the victim during interviews, medical procedures, and legal proceedings. The VA may be present, but is not to participate (e.g., prompting the victim) during the interview process. In coordination with the EAPC/SARC, the VA may provide liaison assistance with other organizations/agencies on victim care matters. VAs report directly to the SARC when performing VA duties. Under certain conditions, VAs may be required to testify at a judicial proceeding but do not maintain any type of records or files.

Victim: A victim is a person who alleges direct harm as a result of the commission of a sexual assault. It is important to note that the term “victim” is subjective and must be carefully used, especially to the victims themselves. There comes a point in the recovery of a victim where they may refer to themselves as “survivors.”

Victim Advocate (VA): An advocate for the victim; a person who can provide emotional support to the victim during interviews, medical procedures and legal proceedings. The advocate may be present, but is not to participate (e.g., prompting the victim) during the interview process. In coordination with the EAPC/SARC, the advocate may provide liaison assistance with other organizations/agencies on victim care matters. VAs report directly to the EAPC/SARC when performing victim advocacy duties. VAs may be required to testify at a judicial proceeding but do not maintain any type of records or files.