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 News Article

DoD Efforts to Combat Sexual Assault Begin Paying Off

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2015 – The attention the military is paying to preventing sexual assault in the military is paying off, the director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office said in a DoD News interview this week, as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month drew to a close.

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow said unprecedented attention that leadership has focused on the crime has trends going in the right direction. Still, while there is progress, no one is doing a victory lap, he said, noting that much remains to be done to reach out to victims and to put in place programs that prevent the crime in the first place.

Defense secretaries Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter have made combatting sexual assault a priority for the department, Snow said. This has led to a strategic plan with clear lines of effort and objectives, he added. “We’ve developed measures to determine whether it is working, and when it is not, we’ve taken steps to address it,” he said.

More Than 50 Initiatives

The secretary of defense has directed more than 50 initiatives to fight sexual assault in the military’s ranks and is tracking their progress, Snow said. Additionally, Congress has passed legislation to combat the problem.

“It really shows we are a learning organization,” he said. “When we identify a problem, we take steps to address it. We’ll continue to do that until we’ve eliminated sexual assault.”

The program began in 2005, as little more than a clearinghouse for information, Snow said. “We’d collect data, but I’m not sure it got to the appropriate leaders,” he said. “Certainly with Secretary Panetta taking this information and acknowledging that there is a problem with sexual assault in the military, that has really given it a boost right to the present day.”

Snow said the effort has increased awareness of the crime and the effect it has on units and on individuals of all ranks. “We started at the top, but I think there is a conversation in the ranks that was not happening four or five years ago,” he added.

But that doesn’t mean the education effort can stop, the general said.

Keeping the Message Out There

“I think the message is out there, but in any given year, we have about 20 percent of the force that is turning over,” he noted. “We bring in folks that make the decision to join the services, and one of the things we have to do is inculcate our values into them. Then we’ve got to educate them on what constitutes the crime.”

When the military educates recruits on the definition of the crimes and what steps they can take if it happens to them, they seem to get the message the general said. He noted that 8 percent of those filing a report this past year actually reported an incident that occurred to them before they entered the service.

“It tells me there’s something going on in the climate that soldiers, sailors, airmen [and] Marines feel comfortable enough given what they have learned that they can tell somebody, … and that opens them up for the care and services available within the military” that can assist them in getting help, he said.

Partnership With Congress

Snow stressed that the department’s partnership with Congress has been incredibly helpful. The Air Force established special victim counselors, a practice that has since spread to the rest of the services. Congress codified the position. There is no capability like that in the civilian world, the general said.

“This is a game-changer, and we are seeing it is having a very powerful impact, because there is a counselor there to specifically guide a victim through the [legal] process,” he said. Once victims who filed a restricted report are briefed, he added, 20 percent of them opt to convert it to an unrestricted report.

“That gives us the opportunity to hold the alleged perpetrator accountable,” the general said.

Snow said he believes the theme for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month -- “Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part, Do Your Part” -- was particularly powerful, noting that it stresses the importance of the idea that all members of the department must contribute to ending the crime.

“Whether you’re a private in the organization or you’re a four-star general, what am I doing to address this particular issue?” Snow said. “And this can’t be limited to the month. We have to do this every month of every year.”

Knowing What to Do

Statistics show more service members are aware of the crime, the general said, adding that he wants more of them to know exactly what to do if people come to them and say they have been victims.

Service members made aware of sexual assault should “act and not look away,” Snow said. Feedback shows 90 percent indicating that if they saw something, they intervened, he added.

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is an opportunity to acknowledge all of the people who are working on this problem day in and day out, the general said. He specifically mentioned the contributions of first responders: the sexual assault response coordinators, the victim advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners and other first responders. “If someone is going to come forward, they are going to contact these people,” he said.

But it doesn’t stop with them, he noted. April also highlighted the work of the people who operate the DoD Safe Help Line, an anonymous capability that victims can reach out to and get feedback from, he said.

“They know their part and they do their part,” the general said. “Now it’s up to the rest of the military. Do they know their part and are they doing their part? We need all that to come together to address this issue.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews) 

Contact Author

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow

Related Sites:
Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
Safe Helpline
DoD Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military
Special Report: Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention

Related Articles:
SAPRO Director: ‘No One Declaring Success’ on Sexual Assault
Special Report: Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention

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