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If you have ever had an intimate experience with your partner that made you feel uncomfortable, afraid or that happened to you without your consent, you are not alone.
The Department of Defense cares about the safety and well-being of everyone in the military community. Read on to learn more about how DOD addresses sexual assault and abuse and some of the options available for anyone seeking support.
What constitutes sexual assault?
Sexual assault is one of many harmful behaviors on a continuum of sexual violence, including sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact and sexual abuse by an intimate partner. In both the military and civilian communities , it is likely more common than most people realize, with victims often experiencing physical, mental and emotional health issues as a result.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these issues can include drug misuse, heart disease and depression. Victims may also suffer economic losses related to an inability to work.
In a relationship, sexual abuse can include a range of harmful, coercive behaviors. These may take the form of pressure being put on one partner to engage in sexual acts that make that partner feel afraid, unsafe or uncomfortable.
There are numerous ways that one partner might abuse another. These include:
- Seeking control over a partner’s reproductive decisions — for example, by intentionally tampering with the other’s contraceptives — including hiding birth control pills and refusing to wear a condom during intercourse
- Withholding the other partner’s medication used to manage other health conditions
It is also important to note that sexual abuse by a spouse or intimate partner can happen along with other abusive behaviors, such as verbal or emotional abuse and physical violence.
If you have experienced sexual abuse or any other form of physical violence, or a threat of violence from your spouse or partner, this can be a red flag for ongoing serious harm and risk to you and your family.
Because physical intimacy is a part of most romantic relationships, some individuals may not realize that feeling unsafe or becoming upset following a sexual encounter with a spouse or partner can constitute abuse.
Getting help for sexual abuse
Everyone deserves trust and mutual respect in their relationships. If something doesn’t feel right, know that help is available. A first step can be calling your installation’s Family Advocacy Program to speak with a victim advocate, who will listen to your concerns and help you determine whether to make a report of the abuse, how to access medical care ─ including counseling services or a sexual assault forensic exam ─ and how to create a plan for your emotional and physical well-being.
A FAP victim advocate can also help you identify community-based, civilian assistance if you wish to seek alternatives to military-based resources.
FAP works in coordination with the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to ensure victims receive support through a network of care as well as the protections to which they are entitled.
This network includes the Safe Helpline, designed for members of the DOD community affected by sexual assault. It is an anonymous and confidential service providing one-on-one help and information to service members, as well as their friends, adult family members and intimate partners, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the United States and overseas.
Safe Helpline will refer sexual assault or abuse that occurs within the context of a romantic relationship or that involves a child to a FAP victim advocate or civilian domestic violence program.
The DOD is committed to supporting everyone in the military community — service members and their families and civilian personnel — to maintain safe, stable and supportive relationships free from sexual violence.
The recent national emergency created by coronavirus disease 2019 is no exception. FAP has compiled additional safety tips and resources for navigating relationships safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you, or someone you know, is feeling unsafe or unsure as a result of a sexual experience with an intimate partner or spouse, or is seeking help for a sexual assault, call your installation’s FAP to speak with a victim advocate, or contact an advocate through the DOD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247. Civilian options for support through the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Sexual Assault Hotline are also available.