Sexual assault victims at Air Force bases soon will have one person to turn to in their darkest hour who will know where to find the help they need.

In the wake of the service’s report on rapes and sexual assaults within the Air Force, each base is to have at the ready volunteer victim support liaisons, who can direct the victims to the appropriate agencies from the beginning up to and including any trial as a result of the incident.

“The program is designed to focus solely on the victim of sexual assault and support them through the entire process,” said Senior Master Sgt. Valise Godley, who is in charge of the program at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

The liaison will know the types of care available on the base, from medical to legal, even housing, if the victim requests it.

The Air Force always has offered support, but this program simplifies the effort.

“The support that we have provided them is not focused support,” said Col. James Wise, staff judge advocate for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe. “There’s never been a single point of contact where the victim could go.”

For the past few weeks, bases in USAFE have been screening and training volunteers.

Each base was allowed to recruit them in whatever way was considered best.

But the goal is the same — to have a well-trained, knowledgeable person available when a sexual assault or rape victim is seeking help.

“They are not counselors,” explained Capt. Bridget Hamacher, chief of military equal opportunity at RAF Lakenheath, England.

The liaisons are, instead, intermediaries who know where the help can be found.

“There are a lot of different agencies on base that help victims of sexual assault,” she said.

Part of the training, which is ongoing throughout USAFE, includes meeting with the various support elements at the bases. The liaisons will have names and telephone numbers of the agencies on hand whenever they are needed.

In practice, the liaisons probably will be contacted by the people who have initial contact with a victim of sexual assault, most likely the medical people, first sergeants or police. They will know how to find the liaison on call.

“We try to get there within an hour,” said Godley, who is also a liaison.

However, the victim can wave off the liaison’s support.

“It’s the victim’s choice whether to take advantage of these resources,” said Wise.

However, he said, the liaison should continue to check with the victim in case there is a change of heart.

Tech. Sgt. Cathy Barnhart has volunteered for the program at Ramstein and already has helped a woman, staying with her even through her return to the States.

“I think I provided a good service to her,” she said. “Sexual assault victims need to be helped. They’re traumatized.”

She is, she said, “a clear guide” for them as they travel the path to recovery.

Godley said first sergeants generally know this information. But, she said, if the victim and accused are from the same unit, the first sergeant would have a difficult balancing act on his or her hands.

The response at the bases has been positive.

Dozens of people have come forward to help.

Most bases already have the liaisons on duty while training others.

“I would anticipate that all of the bases and [geographically separated units] will have this program up and running within weeks,” said Wise. “That is our goal.”

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