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Why I wear teal: They deserve a voice

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachel Tiu, the 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron noncommissioned office in-charge of inventory, also serves as a Victim Advocate for Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Victim Advocates are available throughout the wing to provide support to a victim after a sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Nicole Taylor/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachel Tiu, the 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in-charge of inventory, also serves as a Victim Advocate for Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Victim Advocates are available throughout the wing to provide support to a victim after a sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Nicole Taylor/Released)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Editor's note: this story is part of a series featuring Victim Advocates across the 354th Fighter Wing. To view the previous story, click here.

When I joined the Air Force in 2006, I didn't know about the Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program. I had no idea of the climate of sexual assault in the Air Force. I was naïve. Although the SAPR office formed in 2005, it wasn't until a deployment in 2010 that I learned of the SAPR program in depth and became interested in becoming a Victim Advocate.

By then, we had all been through SAPR briefings, but the subject of sexual assault in the military being briefed didn't hit home to me. That is, until someone told me their story. It was at that moment that it became real. 

I was never apathetic to the issue of sexual assault. I don't think any good person is. However, I never knew anyone who experienced sexual assault in the military. At once, the "Hurts One, Affects All" posters and the briefings carried more weight for me. 

The more I learned about how the military handled sexual assault in the past, the more I wanted to help in any way I could. We often don't like to talk about our mistakes, our failures and our shortcomings; but these mistakes are why we're constantly trying to improve. 

Many victims didn't have a voice in the past. Many suffered in silence. They were shut down, ostracized and victimized repeatedly by a system that failed them. They had no restricted reporting and they had no advocate. It was like they survived on their own. 

They are why I wear teal. I know that as a military family we care for each other and want to protect each other. I understand that this program, with all of its changes, may frustrate some people, but we must remember those who didn't have this program. They deserve a voice too. 

You don't have to be a Victim Advocate to be there for someone; you can support them and be there for them. I encourage everyone to always be a wingman, always protect each other. As a Victim Advocate, I will be there for anyone who needs me. I can be their voice while protecting their privacy and I will support them however they need. That is why I wear teal.