MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
Marine Corps Base Quantico welcomed two new victim advocates to their Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Erin Izykowski and Amy Chen joined the program this summer bringing extensive work experience in the military and civilian sector.
Cherrone Hester, Quantico’s sexual assault response coordinator, said their service is an important component to Congress and Department of Defense’s ongoing effort to eradicate sexual assault in the military.
“The National Defense Authorization Act specifically directed that each service strengthen their sexual assault prevention and response staff to provide commanders with the best victim support service possible,” Hester said.
Improving sexual assault training and prevention is a mission that Quantico is taking head on. In addition conducting SAPRO stand-down training for all Marines and civilians, the base’s newest SAPRO advocates are working to enhance preventive strategies, build rapport Marines, and bridge military and civilian services.
“We’re always thinking of the resources that we can have readily available to our victims regardless of the nature of their reporting,” Izykowski said. “The first thing I did when I got here was find out, in the state of Virginia, what services can crossover to our military victims who may chose not to go through military services.”
Even though the main goal is to strengthen military support, Izykowski, who has worked as a victim advocate at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and with law enforcement in North Carolina, said building a strong collaborative structure is vital part of combating sexual assault.
“Your best defense [with sexual assault] is always your offense, which is why our overall goal is to continue providing prevention and education and alternate resources for victims of sexual assault,” Izykowski said.
In addition to reporting sexual assault incidents to command or SAPRO, DOD Safe HelpRoom, a private online and mobile chat room, which launched last month, is another avenue where Marines and family members can receive one-on-one confidential sexual assault assistance. The peer-support service can provide referrals and are available twice weekly up to two-hours per session.
The anonymous service, which is administered by DOD but operated by the nonprofit organization, Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, is in place to tackle, what Chen, calls the biggest challenge in sexual assault cases: underreporting.
“The majority of sexual assaults occur between acquaintances, which can make reporting a deterrent across the board, whether civilian or military,” said Chen who has worked as a domestic violence and child welfare victim advocate in New York before coming aboard Quantico in June.
The hope is that options like the DOD Safe HelpRoom and SAPRO improve reporting.
Izykowski said crisis intervention with sexual assault victims is a challenge that takes experience, collaboration among services and, more importantly, trust, Izykowski said.
“I want victims to see us as an ultimate resource that can assist them through any crisis that they may be in,” Izykowski said.