DoD Safe Helpline App

DoD Safe Helpline

Unfortunately, there have been a lot of stories in the news lately about sexual assault in the military. Sexual assault is intentional sexual contact without consent. Oftentimes victims feel overwhelmed, alternating between feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, and numbness (feeling nothing at all). Sexual assault can happen to both men and women, and perpetrators can also be male or female. In addition, 85 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Sexual assault victims are never responsible for their assailant’s behavior, no matter what they were wearing, how they were acting, or how much alcohol may have been involved.

One of the most common questions asked by victims and those close to victims is “What do I do now?” In collaboration with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) and the Sexual Assault and Prevention Response Office (SAPRO), the DoD has created the Safe Helpline App for sexual assault support. This app has a fantastic list of features, such as free click-to-call and click-to-chat connections to immediate, live support and great educational material to learn about how to help victims and how to reduce your risk of becoming a victim. The app also features a customizable self-care plan that walks you through a quick set of questions to address emotional levels and then provides recommendations based upon your answers. For those who may be suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms due to a sexual assault, the app includes several calming and soothing exercises, such as guided breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, and visualization and soothing audio exercises.

Always recommend to your patients these three steps to protect themselves from sexual assault: be alert, be prepared, and be assertive. They can be alert by trusting their instincts, being aware of their surroundings, watching for signs of trouble, getting themselves into a safe place, attracting help any way they can, and reporting unauthorized or suspicious people. Patients can be prepared by always travelling with a buddy, staying in groups, staying sober or drinking in moderation, never leaving a drink unattended or accepting a drink from an open container, walking only in lighted areas after dark, locking the doors to their home, and telling close friends when they go out with someone they don’t know very well. Lastly, they can be assertive by stating what they want and what they don’t want, quickly saying STOP and leaving (or calling for help) when they are feeling pressured or scared, and emphasizing that no means NO (not smiling or laughing when they are saying no; saying or repeating it with emphasis).

For more support for service members who have experienced sexual assault or harassment, check out AfterDeployment’s Military Sexual Trauma section.

Jae Osenbach, Ph.D. is a research psychologist and subject matter expert with the Mobile Health Program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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