Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Lee Alexander, the sexual assault victim advocate for the USS Essex.

Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Lee Alexander, the sexual assault victim advocate for the USS Essex. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Compassion does not always come in an obvious package.

Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Lee Alexander, for instance, is built like a fierce defensive tackle. But year after year, he’s volunteered for collateral duty as a sexual assault victim advocate.

Currently he does that work on the USS Essex. Ask why and his gentle nature quickly emerges.

“Society sees males as being hard and not supportive and I’ve seen that many males don’t want to get involved in these situations,” he said. “But God put us on this earth to be protectors.”

Alexander and other sexual assault victim advocates spent Wednesday receiving updated training from Michelle Bowen, the sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC, at Sasebo’s Fleet and Family Support Center.

Training focused on Pentagon policy changes implemented June 14. One change, she said, is a requirement to have trained victim advocates available at all times at all afloat and deployable commands.

In addition, confidentiality is enhanced for the victim and others involved by offering choices for how to report an attack, Bowen said.

Alexander, a 19-year Navy veteran, served a prior tour in Japan on the USS Kitty Hawk. During that tour he dedicated himself to Christianity and, he said, his focus shifted to seeing that “there’s more to the world than just myself. It’s more about sharing, caring and about helping other people.”

Four years ago, before he arrived in Sasebo as an information technician on the Essex, he trained as a victim advocate at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.

“I was in physical security during the time and I responded to four rape cases,” he said. “I saw the pain the victims and their families go through. I saw a need and I wanted to be a part” of meeting it.

“But when you come to the training, you’ll see about 80 percent of the volunteers are females. I think it’s a good example that a male can be supportive and help victims get the help they need,” he added.

With the goal of making victims as comfortable as possible when working with advocates, Bowen said, “we try to match the gender of an advocate and victim.”

“Most commands have multiple advocates and that’s not a problem,” she said. “But when it’s not possible, we try to ease a victim’s concerns as best we can.”

Alexander recalled that in Pensacola he was the only male assisting rape victims.

“When they (victims) realize the advocate is a male, they think one or two ways,” he said. “Either they don’t want to talk to a male at all or the victim sees you as a father figure.

“They’ve grabbed on to me, they’ve hugged me, they’ve cried, females and males. It was like I was sort of a security blanket.”

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