NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. –
Stay strong! You’re not alone! Praying for you! These are a few messages that were written on small white flags with teal markers and then placed along the walkways in front of Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) Norman Sisisky Engineering and Management Building by NNSY’s Sailors and civilians, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) Sailors and others from the various tenant commands located at the shipyard.
“Three years ago, sexual assault response coordinators from military commands across Hampton Roads got together to come up with an idea that all the commands in the area can do at the same time to kick off Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” said Shalise Bates-Pratt, NNSY’s and Suffolk Complex’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). “We came up with these flags that have messages to survivors of sexual assault abuse.”
Although names were not written on the flags, some participants wrote the message with certain people in mind.
“I thought of a family member who is a survivor of sexual assault,” said one participant. “I never went through this, but not everyone is that lucky.”
Friends, co-workers and the unknown survivors were on the minds of the 290 attendees, almost double the amount of the first two years combined. This event offered an opportunity to reflect on what each individual can to do prevent and bring sexual assault awareness throughout the entire year.
“This is not an issue that only affects the Department of Defense organization,” said Cmdr. David Neall, USS George H.W. Bush’s navigator. “It’s present throughout our community. Schools, universities, commercial business both big and small, and unfortunately it’s even in our federal, state and local government. Everyone deals with this problem.”
To show the importance of this year’s theme ‘make the commitment,’ NNSY Commander, Captain Kai O. Torkelson, read and signed the proclamation for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month (SAAPM).
“SAAPM is to show the fact that sexual violence remains an intolerable violent crime that impacts mission readiness for America’s shipyard and our entire Navy community,” said Torkelson as he read the proclamation.
Sailors and civilians alike stood at attention during morning colors as a reminder that just like the American flag flies high each day, sexual assault lies within the shadows of daily life for many.
“Sexual assault isn’t something you pay attention to only in the month of April,” said Bates-Pratt. “Even though the reports of sexual assault incidents rise during the months of April and May, sexual assault doesn’t adhere to just one month alone. This is a battle that happens all year long, but the key thing to remember is that sexual assault is preventable.”
Bates-Pratt shared reminders such as: if an individuas feels uncomfortable or threatened they need to remind themselves that this situation isn’t their fault. They did nothing wrong. It is the person who is putting on the pressure who is responsible. The individual needs to trust their gut. They are not obligated to do anything they don’t want to do.
There are ways to remove yourself from a potential bad situation. One could have a code word with family and friends that tells them that you are uncomfortable or need help. You can text them a series of numbers like “311.” It could be a phrase you say out loud such as, “Have you seen the latest Avengers movie yet?” This lets your family and friends know that you are uncomfortable without alerting the person who is pressuring you.
“There are things that an innocent bystander can do as well,” said Bates-Pratt. “On site correction opens eyes. A person might not realize they crossed the line and it’s a chance to fix it before it becomes an issue.”
Not all bystanders step in and take action. It could because they don’t know what to do and how to help or thinking that this doesn’t affect them, so why bother jumping in? But this does affect them in ways people haven’t thought of before. If a person is being sexual assaulted at work, their performance could drop, thus causing co-workers to pick up the slack. A shop could lose a person permanently whether it was a victim of sexual assault and/or the perpetrator, thus causing shops to be short-handed.
"Unfortunately, not everyone knows what tools and resources are available to them either as a victim or a bystander,” said Bates-Pratt. “Supervisors are realizing that their shop or code needs more training on this issue and are taking the steps to make it happen.”
Bates-Pratt is glad that shipyard employees are stepping up to spread the awareness to others. There are two SARCs located onboard NNSY with approximately 50 advocates who help victims regardless of the time of day. However, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) team doesn’t stop there.
“Everyone has a role on sexual assault prevention to play. This is an all hands on deck for a battle that doesn’t end,” said Bates-Pratt.
If either you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). By the time you finished reading this article, approximately two people have experienced sexual assault.