A First Step for Survivors: DoD Safe Helpline

Since 2011, DoD Safe Helpline services have been a trusted resource for survivors who have yet to disclose or report their sexual assault. According to the FY18 DoD Safe Helpline Annual Report, 56% of adult sexual assault survivors who came to Safe Helpline had not yet reported their assault to military authorities, while 24% of victims had not yet disclosed their assault to anyone.

Why is this important?

Safe Helpline is an important first step for survivors because it is an anonymous, confidential, 24/7, and worldwide resource that allows survivors to access support and information in a safe and secure way. Survivors in the military may be hesitant to reach out to military sexual assault resources due to privacy and retaliation concerns. They may not be familiar with the many resources, both military and civilian, available to them, or may be overwhelmed and not know where to start. Safe Helpline staff can help individuals navigate reporting options, understand potential effects of sexual assault, and connect with other resources military survivors can access.

What can a first step look like?

Talking about sexual assault can be challenging. “We are here to support survivors at any stage of their healing process. Whether you are looking for resources or just to talk, Safe Helpline staff are here for you,” says Dave Ring, Safe Helpline’s program director. Safe Helpline staff engage in active listening with visitors, validate and normalize their emotions, and help brainstorm and problem solve with survivors to address their concerns. “We believe survivors are the experts in their own lives,” continues Ring. “Our role is to provide information and resources to help survivors make decisions about what is best for them.”

What’s next?

When appropriate, Safe Helpline staff can directly connect visitors with their Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) on base using a warm handoff, reducing barriers to disclosure and reporting by directly transferring communication and care to a SARC or civilian sexual assault service provider with the survivor’s consent. Survivors can also search for military and civilian service providers on base or in their community using Safe Helpline’s Responders Near Me search tool. For users that have not yet reported their sexual assault to a military authority, Safe Helpline staff can offer to follow up to answer any further questions the user may have regarding the resources provided at a later date. Follow-up support is entirely optional, and is only offered to those who have not yet connected with a SARC or Victim Advocate to file a report.

For survivors interested in peer-to-peer support, Safe HelpRoom is a 24/7, safe and secure group chat service that allows survivors in the DoD community to share information and support with one another in a moderated environment. This resource can reduce barriers for survivors who are not ready to talk in person about what happened to them, are geographically isolated, or live on a small base and therefore have privacy concerns. Safe HelpRoom was designed to provide a space for survivors to heal by sharing a common experience.

Does Safe Helpline Work with Friends and Family Members of Survivors?

If a survivor in the DoD community chooses to disclose an assault to you, it is important to listen and believe their experience. It can be hard to know exactly how to respond — Safe Helpline provides support to friends and family members of those affected by sexual assault in the DoD community and can help. If you are interested in speaking one-on-one with a Safe Helpline staff member about how to help support a survivor in your life, please consider reaching out. In addition, Safe Helpline’s How to Support a Survivor self-paced educational program is a great resource for friends and loved ones looking to identify helping behaviors that support the course of a survivor’s recovery.

To learn more about Safe Helpline services and resources, visit SafeHelpline.org.

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