Faced with mounting criticism over sexual assaults of women and men in its ranks, the Pentagon today announced one of its “innovative” steps in fixing the problem: online chat for abuse victims.
The Safe HelpRoom was created to allow victims of sexual assault “to participate in group chat sessions to connect with and support one another in a moderated secure online environment at SafeHelpline.org,” the DoD said today. The chat will have a moderator to enforce ground rules and provide referrals for sexual assault response coordinators, along with legal, medical, mental health, and spiritual military resources, if necessary.
“Survivors of sexual assault have told us that being able to discuss their concerns with peers can provide a level of support not available through other means,” said Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica L. Wright. “The Safe HelpRoom is a groundbreaking development in the department’s commitment to support military victims of sexual assault.”
The sessions, including polls to determine what topics user think should be included, will begin immediately and are available twice weekly in two-hour sessions. The Pentagon is contracting with the nonprofit Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to operate the program.
“Safe HelpRoom was designed with unique safeguards to ensure a safe and welcoming place for survivors to connect,” said Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director, DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “Safe HelpRoom is the first of its kind to require participants to commit to a series of ‘ground rules’ of acceptable behavior before entering a session. Additionally, each participant comment is reviewed to ensure it complies with the ground rules prior to posting for the group to see.”
With, at Chuck Hagel’s last count, about 10 different bills pending in Congress to change the military justice system or effect other reforms in an effort to combat sex abuse in the ranks, the secretary of Defense has been trying to make sure solutions come from within the Pentagon before legislation envelops the department.
“We’re talking with other militaries from around the world and see what they think,” Hagel told reporters earlier this month.