NEWS | Aug. 26, 2022

UTNG SAPR program brings sexual assault awareness through prevention and education efforts

By Staff Sgt. Ashley Ellison

The Utah National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program hosted two three-day leadership summits at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, July 25-28, and Aug. 23-25, 2022. More than 50 UTNG Soldiers and Airmen attended the two summits, which were tailored to junior leaders, current and future victim advocates, supervisors, and commanders. 

The focus of SAPR summits has changed through the years. What started as biannual events for current victim advocates to maintain their credentials, has evolved into leadership-based conferences to instill sexual assault awareness and prevention. In addition, the summits empower UTNG leaders of all ranks to influence change within the organization’s culture. 

Guest speakers from diverse backgrounds and professions presented at the summits. Topics included new U.S. Army sexual assault reporting procedures, the vision for an enhanced SAPR program, identification of counterproductive leadership, modern-day methods of human trafficking, sexual assault examination procedures by a sexual-assault nurse examiner, implementation of trauma-informed care, tips for deciphering body language, and ideas for promoting peer influencers. 

“Through the Dignity and Respect Task Force, set up by Maj. Gen. [Michael] Turley, the SAPR program is in a constant evaluation and [is] improving various areas,” said Andrew Kalinen, UTNG sexual assault response coordinator. “The purpose of the presenters is to give a broader picture of prevention with different knowledge bases and points of view in understanding what victims may go through, whether you’re a junior leader, senior leader, or a victim advocate.” 

Brig. Gen. Joseph Green, assistant adjutant general-Army for the UTNG, spoke at August’s Victim Advocate and Leadership Summit, encouraging all Guard leaders to implement the SAPR program and work towards creating an inclusive and accepting culture while appropriately supporting sexual assault victims. 

“We have to lead from the front,” said Green. “Leaders need to ensure they promote the right environment through love, kindness, and building trust with their Soldiers. We are also looking for trained SAPR members and Victim Advocates to coach them in getting there.”

The Junior Leadership Summit’s participants focused on the importance of being positive peer influencers throughout their formations, developing skills in empathy, rejecting normalizing counterproductive behaviors and language within their units, and understanding how their biases influence their actions. 

“We wanted to focus on the prevention aspect of the SAPR program, and part of that effort is to work with junior leaders because they will be our future leaders in the Utah National Guard,” said Kalinen. “We want to help them build skillsets they need to assist in not just sexual assault prevention, but anything ranging from domestic violence, substance abuse, or marriage and family issues, and allow them to be more open with their troops.” 

The Junior Leadership Summit was the third conference tailored to junior Guard members and gained enthusiastic support from many participants. 

“The summit was a great introduction to the SAPR program and gave us junior leaders insight on sensitive issues that are going on within our units,” said Sgt. Rabab Dkhissi, human resources noncommissioned officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. “We learned how we can influence and change the culture by being more inclusive that is free from discrimination and sexual assault. We are the Guard’s future.” 

August’s Victim Advocate and Leadership Summit emphasized how to effectively enhance the SAPR mission, educating current VAs on new SAPR related information. This summit was the second conference that commanders, senior enlisted leaders, officers, and supervisors attended to gain better insight into the SAPR Program and how to implement it in their units and workplaces successfully. 

Lt. Col. Jeremey Stevenson, the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade deputy commander and deputy commander for Counterdrug, attended the Victim Advocate and Leadership Summit. He said the most impactful summit speaker was the Family Justice Center Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, Karen Evans.

“I asked [Evans], ‘How do you do this for 10 years?’ and she said, ‘I see this as a path to their recovery,’” said Stevenson. “A lot of times as a commander, battle buddy, or Soldier that talking about the assault or getting them help is retraumatizing victims. [Evan’s] mindset is that this is the first step in the right direction in helping them gain control of their life again.” 

The SAPR Program will host two VA leadership summits for continued education, open to Guard leaders, and one junior and senior leaders’ summit each fiscal year. However, Kalinen said the SAPR program is currently working on additional training programs in the fiscal year 2023 and beyond. 

“Victim advocates requested leaders to attend the summits, which allowed us to open the door to educating them on a wide variety of issues our Guard members experience,” said Kalinen. “This goes beyond the typical sexual assault reporting procedures. We are in a unique situation in the National Guard that we could use the additional skill sets throughout Utah and identify any form of abuse even when we are not in uniform.” 

The SAPR Program aims to eliminate sexual assault through comprehensive policies and regulations to increase awareness, prevention and education efforts, and retaliation-free reporting. The program also provides support and resources for sexual assault victims, utilizes an extensive investigation process, and holds individuals accountable for sexual assault-related crimes. The SAPR Program and the UTNG also require collective application and advocacy among senior leaders, junior Soldiers, and Airmen to implement the SAPR mission throughout all echelons.

“Most of our issues in the UTNG are cultural issues. We have sexual assault, sexual harassment, toxic behavior, inequity, and instances where we are not including others,” said Green. “This is one of our most important efforts. [The adjutant general] and I are taking many steps to ensure we have the right kind of environment in the Utah National Guard. We care about that deeply. We hope efforts like these summits will result in better training and environments in our units.”

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