Sexual assault survivor speaks at Tripler observance

| April 16, 2014 | 0 Comments
Victim advocates (VA), Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARP) and Sexual Harrassment/Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) program representatives from Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC), 18th Medical Command and 8th Theater Support Command pose for a photo after TAMC's Sexual Assault Awareness Observance at Kyser Auditorium, April 1, 2014. Pictured from left to right are Staff Sgt. Paul Crisostomo, TAMC VA, Sgt. 1st Class Le'Keisha Harris, TAMC VA, Staff Sgt. Mary Valdez, 8th TSC and observance guest speaker, Spc. Brittany Leitner, 18th Medical Command and observance guest speaker, Sgt. 1st Class Yolanda Edmondson, Pacific Regional Medicall Command SHARP Program Manager, Santiago Orta, TAMC SARC, Staff Sgt. Mario Colon, TAMC VA. (Photo by Ana Allen, Pacific Regional Medical Command Public Affairs)

Victim advocates (VA), Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARP) and Sexual Harrassment/Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) program representatives from Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC), 18th Medical Command and 8th Theater Support Command pose for a photo after TAMC’s Sexual Assault Awareness Observance at Kyser Auditorium, April 1, 2014. Pictured from left to right are Staff Sgt. Paul Crisostomo, TAMC VA, Sgt. 1st Class Le’Keisha Harris, TAMC VA, Staff Sgt. Mary Valdez, 8th TSC and observance guest speaker, Spc. Brittany Leitner, 18th Medical Command and observance guest speaker, Sgt. 1st Class Yolanda Edmondson, Pacific Regional Medicall Command SHARP Program Manager, Santiago Orta, TAMC SARC, Staff Sgt. Mario Colon, TAMC VA. (Photo by Ana Allen, Pacific Regional Medical Command Public Affairs)

Story and photos by Ana Allen, Pacific Regional Medical Command

HONOLULU — Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) held a Sexual Assault Awareness Month observance at Kyser Auditorium on April 1, 2014 to bring awareness to what Army leaders say is the enemy within the ranks.

TAMC leaders invited guest speaker, Staff Sgt. Mary Valdez, a San Antonio, Texas native currently assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii to share her transformation from sexual assault victim, to survivor, to warrior.

Before being welcomed to the stage, an emotional video with interviews by Valdez, played recounting her journey.

It also chronicled her participation in several top level Army sexual assault prevention panels where she gave input on policies, procedures and training programs aimed at making the process better for survivors.

Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) leaders invited guest speaker, Staff Sgt. Mary Valdez, a San Antonio, Texas, native currently assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to share her transformation from sexual assault victim, to survivor, to warrior during a Sexual Assault Awareness Month observance at TAMC, April 1 2014. (Photo by Ana Allen, Pacific Regional Medical Command Public Affairs)

Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) leaders invited guest speaker, Staff Sgt. Mary Valdez, a San Antonio, Texas, native currently assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to share her transformation from sexual assault victim, to survivor, to warrior during a Sexual Assault Awareness Month observance at TAMC, April 1 2014. (Photo by Ana Allen, Pacific Regional Medical Command Public Affairs)

Valdez walked to the stage to the sounds of applause from Tripler staff members. “No matter how many times I see that video, I still get emotional,” Valdez said as she paused to compose herself.

Valdez said her transformation from victim to survivor to warrior was gradual and that the turning point came following her arrival in Hawaii. “After the trial I looked at the Army uniform with such disgust because I felt the ultimate betrayal in my case. I thought, ‘I hate the Army and I’m never ever going to put that uniform on again’. But when I said that my heart just sunk. And that’s when I knew that my love was greater than any hate and that I would overcome.”

Since then, Valdez says she proudly wears the uniform and is dedicated to fighting the stigma facing sexual assault survivors, speaking at several awareness events, co-founding a support group for survivors and becoming a victim advocate

Her input to senior Army leaders has also contributed to improvements. “Survivors are now entitled to a special victims counsel, every unit now has a victim advocate and many units have implemented sexual assault battle drills that bring together a chaplain, lawyer, victim advocate, doctor and Army leaders focused on the victim,” Valdez said.

“Everyone wearing the uniform has a responsibility. You need to combat this as well,” Valdez said, charging the audience members with the task of taking a more active role in the fight against sexual assault.

Spc. Brittany Leitner, 18th Medical Command, also shared her survivor story during the observance and gave a warning to the audience.

Spc. Brittany Leitner, 18th Medical Command, shares her survivor story to bring awareness to what Army leaders call the enemy within the ranks, during the Tripler Army Medical Center Sexual Assault Awareness observance at Kyser Auditorium, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Ana Allen, Pacific Regional Medical Command)

Spc. Brittany Leitner, 18th Medical Command, shares her survivor story to bring awareness to what Army leaders call the enemy within the ranks, during the Tripler Army Medical Center Sexual Assault Awareness observance at Kyser Auditorium, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Ana Allen, Pacific Regional Medical Command)

“In my case, there were no warning signs, no indication, no flags that told me that this person who became my perpetrator was bad,” said Leitner. “But people can wear different faces and you don’t know how someone is going to be when you are alone with them. If it happened to me it can happen to you,” she said.

Leitner and Valdez say their support group, Survivors 4 Survivors, has been an incredible source of healing in the midst of a traumatic event and invite other survivors to join the Sexual Assault Forum on Thursdays at 3 p.m. at Fort Shafter, building 525, room 115.

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Category: Health, News, Safety, SHARP

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