Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

Military members get sexual assault awareness training

Another group of military members have successfully been trained to help support victims of sexual assault.

Twenty five members of Edmonton Garrison took part in a day long course called Operation HONOUR, which is a program run by the military to help remove harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

“I refer to it as a combat first aid for sexual trauma,” Capt. Donna Riguidel, program creator and facilitator said.

The course relies on audience interaction and participation to help challenge any thinking or behaviour that would create a harmful environment that would make it difficult for survivors of sexual assault to come forward. Military members are trained in how to react if someone comes to them to report a sexual crime. They are given resources to help support the survivor and help them seek help.

“It’s teaching them that how that first disclosure is received is so incredibly important for recovery,” Riguidel said.

Riguidel said that 90 per cent of military members who have been the victim of sexual misconduct leave the military within a year. She hopes this program will help stop victims from leaving and help them get the support they need within the military.

The classes are small and average around 25 participants per class. So far 100 people have been trained in the month since the course launched between Edmonton Garrison and at CFB Suffield.

So far each course has filled within a day of announcement and members have been put on a wait list to get in.

“Not only is it top down, where you have to stop this problem, so as soon as you put a resource out that is proven to be effective, people are excited about it,” Riguidel said. “Along with that, a lot of people are aware of or have been affected by or know somebody who has been affected by this problem so they are personally invested in making sure this problem has been resolved.”

And Riguidel has her own personal investment in the program as well. She is a survivor of several sexual assaults that happened while in the military and wants to work to make a flawed system better for other survivors. Riguidel shares her stories and the stories of other military sexual assault survivors to help provide real life examples to the training groups.

After an incident Riguidel started suffering from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Once she began to go into the chain of command to seek help she found there was not a specific process or protocol in place to deal with sexual crimes and there was little awareness as to how to deal with the subsequent suffering they caused.

“When I first started to talk about it, I wasn’t in a good place,” Riguidel said. “I feel very empowered talking about it now.”

Riguidel said the training is part of her healing process and she is proud to be a part of Operation HONOUR.

“It’s one of the best projects I’ve ever been involved with,” Riguidel said.

Riguidel plans on continuing to teach the program so that one day everybody in uniform will be able to administer “combat first aid to sexual trauma.”

She hopes one day a version of the program is standardized and mandatory.

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