Story by Cheryl Phillips on 04/04/2019With the variety of news feeds and outlets out there today, it's not hard to run across a story about sexual assault. The very fact that news is 24/7 seems to make the topic of sexual assault a nearly constant theme. Add to that the fact that many television shows, video games and movies feature some form of sexual violence and abuse. It's hard to get away from the topic.
That's why a monthly observance like Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention during April gives Army employees the opportunity to learn more about the issue and be part of the solution. On April 2, the 88th Readiness Command, in concert with Fort McCoy, Wis., garrison program offices, launched a kick-off event for this topic, along with Child Abuse Prevention, Autism Awareness and Alcohol Awareness.
Spearheading the observances were lively morning and afternoon presentations by Jane Straub, a victim assistance specialist for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, a program of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.
Straub pointed out that it's important to have monthly observances, especially with such tough issues. However, "we want more conversation than just once a month," she said. "We want to make the topic of sexual assault more comfortable. We want to create a culture where there is less fear about reporting victimization."
While Straub pointed out the importance of monthly observances, she emphasized tough issues like this require persistence. "We want more conversations about sexual assault in society," she said.
Sexual assault data is comparable to civilian figures, according to Straub: "Sexual assault is an under reported crime regardless of zip code." She noted that the Defense Department has made sexual assault and prevention part of its value statement, with clear policies, regulations and programs governing training, reporting and supporting victims.
"The military has made it courageous to step forward and report sexual assault," Straub said.
One similarity between sexual assaults committed in the military and civilian environments is alcohol. However, the majority of sexual assaults in the military occur with those 18 and older, whereas high school age victims represent the largest group in the civilian world, according to Straub.
Because of the prevalence of sexual violence as entertainment in Western culture, it's easy to become desensitized. But Straub gave a clear example to stress our responsibility as a society. "Imagine if you were a victim and others are entertained by your trauma. We have to take responsibility for this. We have to look at offending words and behaviors. We have to call out people" who cross the line, she said.
This may be especially so in the era of children and adolescents with technology, its ease for spreading rumors. "You have to be very up front with the types of behavior that crosses the line" and is unacceptable, she said.
The Army can learn from civilian procedures and programs to improve its own approaches. Straub listed a number of things, such as providing comfort/therapy dogs to help victims relieve stress as they tell their story, softening the space for victims so they feel safe, not conducting questioning of victims like an interrogation and giving victims a sense of safety. It's also important to keep in mind that this is the worst thing that has happened to the victims in their lives.
Despite the Army's focus on sexual assault and prevention, the numbers increase each year. But Straub emphasized that's not always a bad thing. "The increased numbers indicate that more people feel safe and supported about reporting," she said.
The goal is stabilization then reduction in the numbers. "We want to get to the point where people can report and then ideally see a decline, because that shows you're preventing sexual assault," she said.
As part of the afternoon program, Maj. Gen. Jody Daniels, commander of the 88th Readiness Command and senior commander at Fort McCoy, Col. Hu Chae Kim, Fort McCoy garrison commander and other senior leaders signed proclamations for the four observances.