By Eve Meinhardt

FORSCOM PAO

Kelsey McKay stood in front of the more than 850 attendees at the Fort Bragg Special Victims Summit at the Iron Mike Conference and Catering Center Aug. 29 and asked a simple question that quickly divided the experiences of the audience members based on their gender.

“Ladies, when you stop by the grocery store late at night and are heading back to your car, how do you hold your keys?” asked McKay, a strangulation consultant out of Austin, Texas.

Many of the women in audience held up a visible fist and others nodded in agreement when McKay’s slide showed a graphic of a hand holding keys with them spaced out between the fingers.

She followed up by asking how men in the same situation hold their keys. The consensus seemed to be that most of them keep them in their pocket or hold them casually in their hands. Many of the men in the room looked at their female counterparts for confirmation of this revelation that women often prepare for the worst, even when doing something as simple as taking their groceries to the car.

When McKay asked how many women planned their response or escape if someone tried to rape them, a large number of women raised their hands. She then asked the men and even though rape is also a threat for men, not one hand went up.

The theme for this year’s summit was “The Justice System: A Multidisciplinary Approach Exploring Legal Trends in Sexual Assault, Strangulation and Homicide.” In it’s fourth year, Fort Bragg’s annual summit has grown from an event envisioned to just provide training for Womack Army Medical Center’s sexual assault nurses, victim advocates, attorneys and a few other professionals in the field with just 250 attendees to a larger event bringing together community partners from across Fort Bragg and the region in a variety of professions from medical to legal to military leaders.

Lt. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, commanding general, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, stressed the importance of attending an event like the summit and that military leaders at all levels needed to know how to step up when someone came to them about a possible sexual assault.

“There is no sex in sexual assault,” he said. “It’s assault. If someone punched you in the face, you’d know what that is. This is no different.”

He said there is no place in the Army for victim blaming and that leaders need to understand that the victim of a sexual assault is someone in their formation who is hurting and has been wounded.

“We don’t make fun of someone who has a Purple Heart,” said LaCamera. “We don’t judge how they were wounded … We’re here because we all care.”

That care and concern for the victims of sexual assault is how the summit has continued to expand each year, focusing on local and national issues.

“This is an opportunity for members of Fort Bragg and our community partners to work and learn together,” said Col. John Melton, commander, Womack Army Medical Center. “This is a place where we can come together and collaborate. This is something that impacts all of us.”

In addition to strangulation, the topics of this year’s conference included a focus on sexual assault and cold case investigations, a review of the military’s response from the allegation to action, the protection of rights from a military justice approach and a review by Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West of the murder of Kelli Bordeaux, a Fort Bragg Soldier who was killed in 2012.

Kelly Taylor, the program manager of Womack’s Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examiner Program, plans, organizes and develops the summit each year.

She said that she is amazed at how the simple training event for her team that she asked the U.S. Army Medical Command for $1,000 to support four years ago has become an opportunity for the region to come together.

“This is something that affects the entire community, so it’s only right that we all come together for training so we can learn together,” said Taylor. “Sexual assault touches all our lives, whether it is due to our profession, our own experiences, or something that has happened to someone we know.”

“This is an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and to hear their stories,” she continued. “Every case is a person and that person’s voice deserves to be heard.”