"This happened to me" is a common phrase Liz hears. Elizabeth "Liz" Bruce, a civilian victim advocate for 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade (E-MIB) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), has dedicated her career to supporting victims of sexual assault.
She is passionate about helping soldiers who have experienced fear, shame, and isolation from sexual violence, and she believes National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) is crucial to providing an opportunity for creating a cultural shift. One vital aspect of SAAPM events, says Liz, is the inclusion of guest speakers who share their stories of survival and healing after experiencing sexual assault.
"When we hear it from somebody who's gone through it, we're able to experience it through their eyes," said Liz. "There's a face there, saying this is a real problem." The 201st E-MIB held the most recent SAAPM event; KT Hamrin was a guest speaker who emphasized that SAAPM is not just a month, it's a reminder that we can wake up and choose resilience.
Liz believes that it's easy to ignore the problem when you only hear about it secondhand. However, having a survivor share their story makes a meaningful impact, according to Liz, and working together to change the culture is how it starts.
"This awareness month has been going on for a really long time and we're still in the same situation," said Liz. "And so (we need) a culture shift. We need to give our people a voice behind that for the culture to change (in 2023)."
SAAPM events are opportunities to bring awareness to the fact that sexual assault continues to be a serious problem and provide support and resources to survivors. The ultimate goal, Liz shares, is to create a culture of respect and accountability where sexual assault is not tolerated.
This idea is also reflected in the Army's 2023 SAAPM theme: "Intervene. We are a Team: There is US in TrUSt. Can They Trust in You?" Which emphasizes the importance of teamwork and mutual trust.
"We have to take care of each other just like you would do for someone on the battlefield," remarked Liz. "If you see a soldier who's had too much to drink, you have to take care of that person just like you would on the battlefield, and it's important to tell that to our soldiers. ... Those are the Army values that we hold, and they need to be upheld everywhere by taking care of one another."
As a military spouse, Liz knows the immense benefit in the idea of a battle buddy: doing what is right; looking out for each other.
"I think it's just those simple acts of kindness that we tend to forget: take care of one another and be a good person," said Liz. "That's something that we tell our kids right? We raise our kids and we say, 'just be kind and be a good person.'"
Liz believes vigilance is essential in the community as it is for a soldier on the battlefield, which is also key to policing the issue.
"If you see something wrong, speak up," declared Liz. "Make sure that you're taking care of people because that's what good people do. So, it's the same in this situation. Take care of one another. If we don't do it ... then, you know, we're all screwed." Liz recognizes the universal nature of victimization and the need for a cultural shift to address sexual assault and violence in the military. She believes that SAAPM is an important opportunity, and step, to change the culture. She hopes that by sharing the stories of survivors, soldiers will understand the devastating impact of sexual assault and the importance of taking care of one another on the battlefield of life. "This is a battle in a way, you know, changing the culture is a tough thing to do, but we're in it together because we're taking care of our battle buddies."For more information: 24/7 JBLM SHARP Hotline: 253-389-8469Photo credits: Spc. Joshua Linfoot