By Army Master Sgt. Duff E. McFadden Iowa National Guard
JOHNSTON, Iowa, January 12, 2016 — For more than 40 years, the Iowa National Guard and Iowa Law Enforcement Academy have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship within the boundaries of the Camp Dodge Joint Maneuver Training Center here.
For the past two and-a-half years, that relationship has included invaluable training assistance from the Iowa National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team.
As part of their final grade, ILEA students must conduct a victim interview as part of a sexual assault investigation. Army Sgt. Maggie Passer, a victim advocate coordinator with the Iowa National Guard since 2013, is portraying a sexual assault victim for the Camp Dodge-based police academy.
In this particular scenario, Passer is playing a very calm, very nonchalant, “Sally,” who recounts the events of the previous evening. Sally’s been in a consensual relationship with her boyfriend for many years, but has told him she no longer wants to have sex. Her boyfriend, however, has different ideas and forces her into it.
Working With Local Police
And now, Sally is filing a sexual assault report. She’s confused on how to react, since she knows the relationship is no longer consensual, but she doesn’t necessarily feel it’s rape, either, due to their former relationship.
“I’m being interviewed as a sexual assault victim who is one of several scenario-driven ‘victims,’” said Passer, who’s 34 years old.
“I’m given a scenario by the commandant and the candidates have to ask certain questions and get certain information in order to build a case,” she explained. “They then present their findings to the commandant as if he were their reporting official.”
Passer added, “Each interview can last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours, depending on whether the interviewer is nervous or scared and dances around the important questions that must be asked in such a scenario.”
Since police officers are often the first persons to arrive following a sexual assault, Passer feels participating in such training can help educate potential officers on how not to “re-victimize” women who have been assaulted.
“I hope, at the end of the day, these officers realize words have meanings and how you present yourself also has an effect,” she said. “Comments such as ‘She asked for it,’ can be very defeating.”
Passer continued, “But if you let them know, ‘I’m very sorry. Let me get you help with medical and safety and we can deal with the police report later,’ that can be a big help to make the victim feel more like a survivor, and less of a victim.”
Passer, who hails from Ankeny, said she gets a lot of “You’re a really good actor” responses from the students, but that’s not why she participates in the quarterly training.
Understanding Sexual Assault Victims
“I want people to look at a victim and realize their interaction with them may make or break whether that victim actually presses charges or not,” she said. “It’s an eye-opening experience for many of these young police officers. They need to realize, ‘Holy cow, I may actually further injure these victims.’”
With a class graduating each quarter and about six interviews per class, Passer has assisted with more than 60 such interviews.
Passer joined the Iowa National Guard in 2001 during her freshman year at the University of Northern Iowa. A history major, she signed on with the 1034th Quartermaster Battalion as a supply logistician.
“I always wanted to fly a helicopter. I watched ‘Courage Under Fire’ as a little girl, with Meg Ryan as a woman helicopter pilot and that’s what I wanted to do. But I was such a chicken to sign on the dotted line,” Passer said.
“My younger brother, who’s three-years younger, joined the Guard with the 1034th Quartermasters at 17 years of age. I figured, if he can do it, so can I. Within six months of my brother, I signed on with the same unit,” she said with a smile.
Service in Afghanistan
Passer served in Afghanistan from 2010-11 with Company A, 334th Brigade Support Battalion, Iowa Army National Guard. She recently re-enlisted for another six years, which will give her more than 20 years of military service.
“I want to continue to do what I’m doing now,” Passer said, “and that’s providing the best advice for my soldiers that I can. At end of the day, I want to ensure they have what they want and need.”
Passer was working supply at the United States Property and Fiscal Office when Army Capt. Joel Sage contacted her about a victim advocacy job opening. He felt she would be a good fit.
“Honestly, there were so many people … who were more senior and more experienced than me,” Passer said. “You can imagine my surprise when I got the position. I jumped up and down.”
Passer carries her passion as a victim advocate coordinator into her job each day.
“Every day is a different challenge,” she said. “We deal not only with the victims themselves, but with perpetrator accountability and leadership as well. We work to educate all soldiers, from the very-senior leaders to the company leaders and staff sergeant team leaders.”
The best part of the job, Passer said, is knowing that any service member going through an atrocity such as sexual assault, has another service member there for them that they can trust.
“One-hundred percent of what they tell me, I believe them,” she said. “Everybody who wears the uniform should share the same goals and Army values. If everyone fervently followed and believed in the Army values we wouldn’t need to have a SHARP team here.”
Passer currently resides in Ankeny, with her husband Jeb, and their two children.