Family Advocacy Program helps families face sexual abuse

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley J. Thum
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Victims of sexual abuse don't always know their attackers, but often the source of their trauma is all too close to home.

The 28th Medical Operations Squadron assists Airmen and their families in the recovery process after these incidents through their Family Advocacy Program.

Lee Sasse, 28th MDOS FAP outreach manager, said the program focuses on preventing family maltreatment and providing both support and mental health care to families affected by sexual abuse.

"Family maltreatment includes domestic abuse between married couples, unmarried intimate partners, and child abuse or neglect," Sasse explained. "Prevention involves educating the community on healthy relationships, and providing tools to assist couples in establishing and maintaining those relationships."

The Department of Defense defines "unmarried intimate partners" as two people who were previously married, two people who share a child, or two people who share a domicile and are in an intimate relationship, Sasse noted.

In an intimate relationship, it can be hard to determine whether or not sexual abuse has occurred.

"The concept of marriage and commitment sometimes clouds the water for some people to where they do not recognize unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact from a husband, wife, or intimate partner as sexual assault," Sasse said. "Bottom line, if it is unwanted sexual contact without consent, it doesn't matter if the couple is married or strangers, it is sexual assault."

Several other factors can also complicate the situation for these individuals.

"When a sexual assault occurs between strangers, or those who do not know each other well, the victim will rarely choose to have continued contact with that individual," Sasse explained. "When sexual assault or abuse occurs within a family, or between unmarried intimates, those involved sometimes continue to live together or at least have regular contact."

Sasse added that abuse among family members can become a continued problem because many victims are hesitant to prosecute a loved one.

Choosing and maintaining a relationship is similar to purchasing and owning a car, Sasse explained. "People don't buy cars without ensuring they operate well and will be a good fit for their needs, and they don't wait for their car's engine to explode before checking the oil level," Sasse said. "Periodic preventive maintenance is paramount to keeping the vehicle ready for anything."

"I remind people that they need to choose the best partner for them and then constantly fuel their relationship with love and attention, and perform regular `tune-ups' with communication and quality time together - even when things are great," Sasse noted. "Exploring their relationship and taking classes before there are problems is basic maintenance and it promotes resilience."

Education is the key to any prevention program, and Sasse works hard to promote resiliency and healthy relationships through briefings and other training activities on base.

"In addition, I teach a lot of strength-based classes, including `Healthy Dating,' `Marriage Enrichment,' stress and anger management classes and several parenting classes," Sasse added.

Sasse said helping Ellsworth families work through issues is rewarding, adding he is happy to help keep the base's Airmen fit to fight.

"When one or more of your relationships are in crisis, it affects mission readiness and requires attention - ignoring it doesn't help," Sasse said. "Seeing people get help and improve their careers in the process is what I enjoy doing and helping our country's military families makes it all that much better."

The Air Force maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault, one that every Airman is responsible to uphold.

"No one should have to live with abuse," Sasse emphasized. "We all deserve respect and personal safety, no matter what."

For more information, or to receive care because of sexual abuse among your family, call the 28th MDOS FAP at (605) 385-3660.

To report a sexual assault, call the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office at (605) 385-5233, or the 24/7 reporting line at (605) 385-SARC (7272).