MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – --
Some might think sexual assault can only happen to someone else; they would be wrong. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, including service members, at any time, for any number of reasons.
As an effort to fight against the black mark it has made on the Marine Corps’ reputation, April was designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The month is dedicated to helping educate commands, Marines and families and to embolden them to take a stand.
“Let me be clear on how I view [sexual assault] and where I stand,” said Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. “Sexual assault is an ugly mark on our proud reputation. It goes against everything we claim to be as Marines and is a crime. This crime is not only completely incompatible with our core values of honor, courage and commitment, it is an affront to the basic American principles we so bravely defend.”
In accordance with the commandant’s objective, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is actively educating its Marines and sailors to recognize and prevent sexual assault.
“Times are changing,” said Col. John P. Farnam, MCAS Miramar commanding officer. “We are passing this knowledge to our Marines so they can make those good decisions and watch over each other as well.”
Part of passing on this knowledge falls to the uniformed victim advocates. A UVA’s job is to give victims of sexual assault options for treatment and advice when they need it. They can be the rock victims need in a dire situation.
“During this month, and all year really, we want to encourage those who have been sexually assaulted to come forward so we can ensure that Marine gets the help they need,” said Gunnery Sgt. Sandra Lerma, a UVA and inbound staff noncommissioned officer in charge with the Joint Reception Center and a Harlingen, Texas, native. “We offer medical treatment, counseling, and visits with the chaplain with a constant support system if they ever need to talk.”
UVAs provide these services anytime an assault is brought to their attention. Unfortunately, out of possibly dozens of cases that occur, few step forward to receive the care they need.
“I personally want to know that the Marines who come to me for help get the care they need,” said Lerma. “When I do my work as a UVA, I think what if that was my brother or sister, wouldn’t I want them to get help? Would I want help if someone hurt me like that? Those questions help me to do what I know I must to get them feeling normal again.”
Only a handful of Marines have come to Lerma for assistance after being sexually assaulted, but she still keeps in contact with all of them, providing all the support she can.
The commandant reported that in 2011, 333 Marines came forward to report sexual assaults, providing only a glimpse into the under-reported crime. Amos then offered a solution to the problem.
“Our greatest weapon in the battle against sexual assault has been and will continue to be decisive and engaged leadership,” said Amos. “Leaders at every level are responsible in creating an environment and command climate in which every Marine is treated with dignity and respect. I need [the individual Marine’s] help in building and maintaining the conviction to fight sexual assault, stamp out harassment and indifference.”
As senior Marine Corps leadership calls their Marines to arms against sexual assault, MCAS Miramar stands with them in fighting back by providing every chance for education on sexual assault and demanding Miramar Marines do the right thing and stand against this heinous crime.
“It takes a lot of moral courage to step in when you think someone might be sexually assaulted,” explained Farnam. “It takes courage, but you just can’t miss when you’re protecting your Marines, and that’s what we need – for Marines to look out for each other.”