Nebraska SAPR office conducts joint Victim Advocate course

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexander Schriner

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program conducted a Victim Advocate Refresher course on May 13-15, 2024.

This joint event with the Air and Army Victim Advocates featured Russell W. Strand as the national speaker, where he provided comprehensive training to advocates. Strand, a retired U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) special agent, is recognized as a Department of Defense and international subject matter expert in various fields, including domestic violence intervention, critical incident peer support, sexual assault, trafficking in persons, and child abuse investigations. He also developed the Forensic Experimental Trauma Interviews technique, which has become widely used in the DoD when interviewing victims of violence and trauma.

"What I talked about with the Nebraska National Guard was important. We were talking about human-centric investigation, advocacy, and human-centric prosecutions,” Strand said. “The reason we focus on human-centricity is because we have done a great job in the military and outside the military, focusing on trauma-informed practices."

Human-centric refers to an approach or philosophy that places the needs, experiences, and well-being of people at the forefront. In criminal justice, advocacy, and organizational systems, human-centric means prioritizing the human elements, such as empathy, compassion, and respect, in interactions, policies, and procedures.

Strand emphasized that the focus on human-centric practices builds on the foundation of trauma-informed care and the importance of moving to a broader, more inclusive approach.

"We’ve done a good job inside and outside the Department of Defense over the years, helping to understand what trauma is, and how it impacts our victims and systems,” Strand said. “The next best step is being human-centric because it's not just about trauma. It's about people being people. It's about neurodiversity, intersectionality, and many other things that impact how a victim reacts to, receives the trauma, and experiences what happens to them."

Building on Strand's insights, Holly Page, Nebraska Army National Guard Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, highlighted the importance of a compassionate approach in daily interactions.

“Understanding a victim's behavior after trauma is important because you don't want to revictimize them or engage in victim blaming, which can further harm their recovery and trust in the support system,” Page said. “It starts with all of us by being welcoming in our day-to-day activities and how we carry ourselves.”

The event also focused on victim advocacy in ensuring proper prosecution and healing for victims of trauma in the military. Strand talked about the challenges victims face in navigating the military system, the value of victim advocates, and the need for leadership involvement.

"The one phrase that I always come back to is our warrior ethos: we never leave a fallen comrade,” Strand said. “Everyone, subordinates, peers, and leadership has to understand that when someone is struggling, we have to be there for them, whether we like them or not, whether we accept them or not, we have to be there for them. Never leave a fallen comrade.”

Strand’s vision for a kinder, more human-centric criminal justice system was evident during his recent engagement with the Nebraska National Guard.

“He presented in a way that was storytelling, which made it easier to relate to our advocates. That in turn made it more empowering and uplifting as well,” Page said, “He's worked for the military for so long, that he knows his message is impactful and that it needs to get across the board.”

Melissa Miller, the 155th Air Refueling Wing SARC, agreed with Strand’s talking points from the event.

"Leadership must prioritize trauma-informed care and create a safe work environment for survivors and all service members,” Miller said. “They control the climate, and if they don't push that from the top down, then it affects everybody, not just the survivors, but other Airmen and Soldiers.”

Miller added that a big part of the event's message was empowering the victim advocates and applauding what they do.

“We made sure they understand how important they are to our survivors,” Miller said. “They help guide our survivors on their path to healing and justice. As we continue to foster a human-centric approach, their support makes a difference.”