DAHLGREN, Va. –
The month of April is nationally recognized at Sexual Assault Awareness month. According to the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office, more than 35,000 servicemen and women are certified as Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and Victim Advocates (VAs). In the Naval Support Activity South Potomac Region, retired Navy Information Systems Technician and Air Force Technical Sergeant Franklin Ray Dean Sides fills this role.
Sides began serving as SARC for the South Potomac Region – which includes Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) and NSWC Indian Head – in December 2018.
“As an official military program, we work for uniformed service members and their dependents, who are 18 years of age and older,” said Sides. “That being said, if a civilian employee calls me to report an assault that happened to them personally or that they saw happen, I’m still going to help.”
The SAPR program provides response and advocacy for victims of sexual assault. According to Sides, he and other members in the SAPR program are first responders. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sides maintains the 24 hour hotline solo.
“Before the pandemic, uniformed VAs from all the commands in the Naval District Washington district would carry the hotline and go-bag for a week at a time,” Sides explained. “With the pandemic, I pulled the hotline back to myself. I can’t ask these sailors to put themselves out there like that.”
In addition to manning the hotline and office numbers, Sides’ office provides prevention training. Discussions vary from conversations about intervention strategies to healthy relationships.
“SAPR training is an annual requirement. While the online version is accessible, face-to-face training carries a little more weight.”
In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the SAPR office is encouraging everyone to participate in Teal Tuesdays and support Denim Day April 28.
“Teal is the internationally recognized color for sexual assault awareness. On Denim Day, we want everyone to wear something denim to stand in solidary of sexual assault victims,” said Sides.
Sides’ connection to his role as the SARC is more than just a job.
“I am a survivor of sexual assault in the military. When it happened to me, the SAPR program didn’t exist. When I was given the opportunity to be a volunteer VA for the Air Force, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it and help those that are going through what I went through at 19,” Sides shared. “It used to be something I was ashamed of and kept hidden. Once I found my voice, I didn’t want to stop sharing. It helps especially male victims of sexual assault.”
According to the Rape, Assault & Incest National Network (RAINN), one in every 33 men and one in every six women has been a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault.
“I know from dealing with my own experiences and with clients over the years that when you’re ready to tell your story, you will. Some people never get there, and that’s OK because it’s yours,” said Sides. “There’s no right or wrong way to heal from sexual assault. Until you find your voice, that’s what I’m here for – I’ll be your voice and speak for you until you’re ready.”
Sides reiterated, “If something happens to you or you see something happen to someone else, call me. Call my office or the hotline and tell me what you saw. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
While the SAPR program is limited in its capabilities for government civilians, they are still the first resource to call because they are trained specifically in sexual assault victim response, and can maintain confidentiality. Regardless of affiliation, Sides says he’s a resource for all.
For active duty servicemen and women:
To reach the SAPR Hotline, call 540-424-0660. To reach a Civilian VA, call 540-376-8858. To reach Sides directly, you can call 202-672-4686. All of these numbers are available 24/7.
For government civilians:
To reach the EEO Office, call 540-273-0765. To reach the LER Office, call 540-653-3217.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673. The number is available 24/7.