MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- When it comes to sexual assault, anyone can be a victim regardless of age, gender or heritage - even a fellow Marine.
To combat any future issues, every Marine serving with 1st Marine Division trains to prevent incidents of sexual assault from happening to their peers by attending annual prevention training and follow-on courses.
Sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent.
“I think there is a misconception that sexual assault doesn’t happen in certain parts of the population,” said Nicole Beeson, the sexual assault response coordinator for 1st Marine Division. “A lot of people think it won’t happen to themselves or someone they know. Some of the things I try to address to Marines are some things that may be acceptable to some people, may not be acceptable for others.”
Before Beeson was the SARC for 1st Marine Division, she worked at local hospitals in Kentucky dealing with mental health disorders, domestic violence, rape victims and earned a degree in psychology.
She then worked as a victim advocate for sexual assault and rape crimes and also worked as a liaison for witness interviews and homicide cases.
Always having been drawn to the military, Beeson transitioned to Camp Pendleton and worked as a civilian victim advocate. When the Department of Defense changed a policy in 2013 and allowed civilians to become SARCs, Beeson seized the opportunity.
“Coming from a background of working with both civilian agencies and the military, one of the things the Marine Corps excels at is looking after its Marines,” said Beeson, a native of Country Club Hills, Ill. “Many times in the civilian sector there are cases that will be overlooked and won’t make it to a trial, but that doesn’t happen in the Marine Corps. We do the best we can to address presexual assault and ensure there is long term care for victims.”
Although any Marine can become a victim of sexual assault, any Marine can also intervene and prevent it from happening.
“It can be something as small as pulling a friend aside and talking to them or taking them home if they are intoxicated and aren’t thinking as they normally would,” said Gunnery Sgt. Maria Rodriguez, the lead uniformed victim advocate for 1st Marine Division. “All it takes is for an individual to recognize the signs and have the moral courage to intervene and prevent any further actions from happening.”
Marines can also avoid being sexually assaulted by making themselves a hard target. By avoiding unnecessary risks, a Marine is taking even more preventive measures from becoming a victim.
“In all aspects of a Marine’s life, we need to teach them how to mitigate risk,” said Col. Jeff Fultz, the chief of staff of 1st Marine Division. “We talk about it in antiterrorism force protection, and I think we need to talk about it for Marines in everyday life too. Marines put themselves at risk for all kinds of misconduct such as when they drink to excess, when they don’t take care of each other and when they put themselves in situations they can’t recover from. Marines need to make themselves a hard target, and there are many things they can do to do that.”
Service members who become victims of sexual assault have many options available for support. They can call a sexual assault support hotline, talk to a UVA or talk to their chain of command.
“The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program is a commander’s program,” Beeson said. “Every Marine needs to know that their commanders have their backs, and they are there to offer support if an individual is a victim to sexual assault.”
Committing sexual assault goes against the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment, said Beeson. Any Marine who commits sexual assault will be held accountable for their actions and will be punished under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
“After investigations are conducted and witnesses come forth, a Marine who has committed sexual assault can be prosecuted through court martial and be separated from the Marine Corps,” Rodriguez said.
Sexual assault is one of a handful of things the Marine Corps has a zero tolerance policy for, Rodriguez said. If just one sexual assault incident happens, it can hinder a work environment and disrupt good order and discipline.
By order of the commandant of the Marine Corps, it is each Marine’s inherent duty to prevent sexual assault. Sexual assault is something that not only hinders unit cohesion, but it can break down a unit’s morale thus making the Marine Corps a less effective force.