Fort Riley overhauls sexual assault program

Fort Riley

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Fort Riley has revamped its services for sexual assault victims in the military, streamlining the process in a bid to make it easier for victims to report assaults.

The fort’s new Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention Center on the base near Junction City opened earlier this month and gives anyone reporting an assault a one-stop shop for services.

Before the center was opened, victims who wanted to speak with a lawyer in the staff judge advocate’s office needed to go from the desk of Army Sgt. Aiden Hinkley to another building that was a 10-minute drive away. Anyone seeking to press charges would have then been referred to the criminal investigation division in another, which is another 10-minute drive, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1eRvMtx ).

But now the offices share the same hallway in a low-traffic building, allowing people to enter discreetly, Hinckley said.

“We want to keep the number of people who know to the smallest possible” until victims decide the best course of action, he said.

The idea struck Hinkley and others within the 1st Infantry Division’s assault response team after calls from Congress and the Pentagon to address a crisis of sexual abuse.

Hinkley and about 30 other Army sexual assault response coordinators from around the world completed three months of training in late March. When Hinkley returned to Fort Riley, he and the base’s SHARP program manager, Lt. Col. Andrew Turner, put sexual assault reporting, victims’ advocacy and investigative resources under one roof. And they managed the transition in two weeks.

Posters and banners around Fort Riley also encourage victims to “Speak Up,” and news releases announcing the consolidated facility showed up on soldiers’ cellphones.

“We’re already seeing dividends,” Turner said.

Capt. Alex Boettcher, special counsel to assault victims, said five people contacted him last week about cases, which is slightly more than usual.

Hinkley said the SHARP center stands ready to offer counseling and anonymity to victims, even if they choose not to file a report. Those who seek counseling but want to keep the military out of it are referred to the Crisis Center, a nonprofit civilian agency off base.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who sponsored legislation aimed at strengthening sexual assault prevention programs and training, called Fort Riley’s changes “a terrific idea.”

“And the fact they did it so quickly is an indication that the message has gotten through,” she said.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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