Reflecting back ... Looking forward

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- It is over ... my thesis that is. Thanks to the Air Force Chaplain Service, I was given the opportunity to spend the last year and a half focused on how to provide care to victims of violence; be it rape, child sexual abuse, or domestic violence.

To say that it has been an emotionally draining period of time would be an understatement. Yet, over the past 18 months, I have acquired insights that will benefit the women and men of the United States Air Force for years to come. In the next few paragraphs, I would like to share a couple of these insights as we work towards bringing an end to sexual violence.

Out of all the lessons learned, the one which stands at the forefront for me is that the victims of sexual trauma are real people who have had their world turned upside-down by the acts of another human being.

I say this because: 1. these victims did not ask to be assaulted or abused, and 2. you or I could very easily become a victim as well.

As I read case studies and talked face-to-face with victims, I began to wonder how I would react was I to walk where they walked. The more I wondered, the more I began to see life from their perspective; the more I began to glimpse the pain, the confusion, the change in how I viewed myself and the world around me.

Now I realize I will never be able to fully experience or even understand the devastation an assault brings to a person's life. However, the glimpses I have received have convinced me I need to do whatever is required to not only educate others on this life-altering crime, but to provide effective pastoral care to victims and perpetrators.

The intentional harming of another has an impact on more than just the physical body. In time the physical wounds will heal but the psychological, social and spiritual scars may remain forever.

Psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, paranoia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can have a significant bearing on the way a victim interacts with her/himself and the world.

Sociologically, the possibility of being sexually assaulted causes women especially to operate on a "rape schedule," where the setting of the sun means a limit to their freedoms. The result is that filling the car with fuel or getting money from the ATM at night becomes a choice between need and risk. Spiritually, victims may begin to question God's ability to protect them, His care for them, or even if a God exists at all. In short, a sexual assault is not a sexual act, but an assault upon a person's entire being.

The DoD has instituted a program aimed at prevention and assisting victims of sexual assault. However, for the program to work, each of us needs to be vigilant in treating each other with the respect and honor as members of the armed forces and the human race.