The centerpieces at the Iron Mike Conference Center often mean different things, depending on the event taking place in its rooms. At the third annual Special Victims Summit Sept. 19, everyone was encouraged to take a small piece of each table’s decoration as a reminder of the inner strength each one of us possesses.
“Sea glass symbolizes the strength we all must have in the face of adversity,” said Kelly Taylor, the sexual assault medical forensic program manager, Womack Army Medical Center.
“This glass has been tossed and turned by the ocean, facing strong currents and damaging blows. Yet, it emerges from this being made even stronger and more beautiful by the struggles it faced. As we help victims of sexual assault, each of us needs this strength in the face of adversity.”
In three years, attendance at the summit has grown from around 200 people to more than 500. Attendees come from a variety of careers, both on and off post, including medical personnel, law enforcement, legal representatives, victim advocates and military leaders.
“It’s important to have something like this to bring us together,” said Taylor. “We all want the same thing and are working toward the same goals. Why shouldn’t we be sitting together, receiving the same information?”
Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, deputy commanding general, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, said that after attending last year’s summit, he felt it was important for as many leaders as possible to attend the conference this year.
LaCamera also said not stepping in to prevent sexual assault is equivalent to fratricide.
“Leaders, you get paid to provide a safe and secure environment,” said LaCamera. “They don’t tell you that when they hand you the colors, but that’s the job.”
The theme of this year’s conference included a comprehensive profile of sexual offenders, victim impact and fostering a multidisciplinary response. One of the guest speakers was Dr. Michael Bourke, chief forensic psychologist with the U.S. Marshals.
Bourke has spoken extensively with sexual offenders during the course of his career, including living with sex offenders for eight years during his time as a psychologist for a federal sex offender treatment program.
He focused on the psychology of the offender, admitting that there is no cookie cutter method of identifying who may become a serial rapist.
“Sexual assault has been a consistent problem across time,” said Bourke. “It’s not just because of the internet. Approximately one in five women is sexually assaulted in their lifetime. About one in seven, or ten, men is sexually assaulted in their lifetime.”
Bourke said that the data varies for men because the report rates are generally lower for men. He then showed photos of various women throughout the last decade who were arrested for having sex with minors. Familiar names include Mary Kay Letourneau, Debra Lafave and Pamela Smart.
He noted that the headlines and convictions did not match what would have been reported if the ages and genders had been reversed. Even a quick Google search for teachers committing sexual assault brings up lists of the “hottest teachers caught sleeping with students” ranking them by their looks.
Bourke’s presentation even showed that the women who would be considered by society as more attractive often got less prison time than their less attractive counterparts.
Dr. Sharon W. Cooper, a developmental and forensic pediatric specialist, spoke about juvenile sex offender dynamics and sexual exploitation in the digital age, and Dr. Richard Barbaro, spoke about offender escalation and homicide.
When it comes to electronic devices and children, Cooper offered a simple piece of advice to all parents.
“Just remember who is paying the bill for your child to have a phone,” she said. “It’s not their device. It’s yours, they’re just borrowing. Set the expectation early on and let them know that you’re paying for it and that it’s your phone. You have the ability to monitor what they’re doing on it at any time.”