Cindy Graver from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., is the Air Force's 2013 Exceptional Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. ()
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When Cindy Graver first went to work as the sexual assault response coordinator at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., in 2005, she was half of a two-member team in a job new to the military.
Eight years later, just about everybody has heard of the SARC. And the Air Force says Graver, who now leads an office of five, is among the best the service has to offer.
This month, Graver was named the 2013 Exceptional Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. She’s now in the running for the Defense Department-wide honor, which should be announced soon.
“This award represents and is for all the outstanding SARCs who do an exceptional job every single day in the field,” Graver said in an interview with Air Force Times. “I don’t know how anybody can pick just one person.”
She is quick to credit the hardworking, creative people she works with, from those in her office to base chaplains, first sergeants, commanders, investigators and others.
“We also have partners [off base]: local law enforcement, our hospital, the local rape crisis center, the local district attorney’s office. It takes so many people working together. The program can’t function by itself,” Graver said.
Graver and her team continue to come up with innovative ways to address sexual assault in the military, Col. Patricia Ross, 78th Air Base Wing vice commander, said in her nomination letter of Graver.
Among them: The base’s “iT’’ campaign developed by Graver and her team to address the difficulties people sometimes face when talking about sexual assault.
“ ‘Let’s talk about iT’ pamphlets have been distributed across the installation providing tools and resources to combat sexual assault. The ‘iT’ symbol was deployed across the installation and at every entrance gate, sparking a publicity campaign where all security forces members were trained on key talking points and 140 leaders from across the installation attended training to teach them how to have difficult conversations with their employees,” Ross wrote. “Being able to address and talk about ‘iT’ has brought about the beginnings of a culture change and has prompted several victims living with the stigma of rape for many years to finally seek the help they needed.”
For her part, Graver said she has been “very blessed to have been given the opportunity to work with some amazing people and with some people that I’ve been able to help. When you look in somebody’s eyes and you know you’ve made a difference, that’s the best feeling in the world. There’s nothing that will ever top that.”
Q. How did you get involved in sexual assault prevention and response?
A. My husband was active-duty [Air Force] and so we lived around the country — around the world, really. I have a bachelor’s degree in social work education and a master’s degree in business. I like to tell people, “I can hug you or balance your checkbook.” I’ve taught school, I’ve worked as a contracting officer for both the Air Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs. I’ve worked in the child care center [and] as a drug and alcohol counselor.
I love working with people and taking care of people. I have a passion for wanting to help people, to do the right thing, to help people heal, to just have people be healthy.
Q. What do you do from day to day?
A. It’s an awful lot of education and training. I spend a lot of time doing briefings. Right now we are working on the sexual assault prevention annual stand-down training coming up.
As victims come into our office to report sexual assault, we do whatever is needed. We get them whatever care they need: telephone numbers so they can reach us at night when they can’t sleep and thoughts start running through their head. We’re a 24/7 operation.
I am constantly impressed by the dedication of the helping agencies we have in the Air Force and the great job they do. I am constantly amazed and impressed by the strength and courage of people who have come forward.
Q. What can someone expect when they make a report?
A. It’s really important when a person has been traumatized, as victims of sexual assault have been, to give them control back in their life. I’m a strong believer in that. I’m a firm believer in the more options they have, the better off they will be, and that it is a start in the healing process.
Every report is different. We try to do what the person making the report wants. We talk about your reporting options. If you are active duty, you are eligible to make a restricted or unrestricted report. Restricted means we’re going to get that person the help they need — medical care, chaplain care, counseling care. If they need a forensic exam, we can do that. Evidence can be collected and we can give it an anonymous identifier code and [Air Force Office of Special Investigations] can collect it and keep it while the victim heals. Later on, if the victim decides, “I’m strong enough, I want to change this to an unrestricted report,” they can. Now OSI becomes involved and there will be an investigation.
We now have a new service that started in January 2013 called the special victims counsel program. Whether a victim makes a restricted or unrestricted report, they are offered a special victims counsel, an attorney who is available to talk to victims by telephone, in meetings, or if there is an Article 32 hearing or court-martial, they will absolutely come.
We’re going to talk to [victims] about victim advocates. If [a victim] makes an unrestricted report, we can talk about expedited transfers. It’s very similar to a humanitarian assignment. The purpose is to support the victim.
Q. How did the iT program get started?
A. We’re sitting around the table back in the fall trying to decide what we need to do next, how do we make a difference, how do we talk about it — “it” being sexual assault.
Sometimes people are afraid to use words that relate to sex or sexual terms. But we can’t change things by sticking our heads in the sand, and we can’t change things we don’t know. We started some classes for [base leadership].
We listed some sexual terms and slang terms, and we got all these from first-term airmen. The whole premise is if someone comes to talk to me and they start using terms first of all that I don’t understand and I have a shocked look on my face, they’re probably not going to talk to me. We want to get leadership comfortable enough to listen to the terminology, to say the words.
Q. Have you seen a shift in people’s attitudes toward sexual assault?
A. We’re seeing people coming forward and talking about it and making reports, and I see that as a good thing.
In 2005, if I had held a class and said come to this training if you want to, we wouldn’t have had very many people attend. We used to have no-shows in 2005 and 2006. Today, we don’t have no-shows. [Sexual assault is] taken very seriously.
[Now] when we’re holding classes, they fill up. And it’s not mandatory. That’s how I know the culture is changing. That’s how I know we’re doing something right and people are getting it.■