Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Army gets into the sexual assault prevention business

By Gina Cavallaro - Staff writerPosted : Tuesday Sep 9, 2008 19:20:12 EDT

In an effort to force new life into a stagnating sexual assault response program, the Army will go after sexual predators in its ranks by going after its own culture of inaction to stop a rape before it happens.

At a week-long training summit in Alexandria, Va., that began Monday, more than 250 civilians, division level general officers and their sexual assault prevention response officers are huddling with sexual violence experts to hash out a more aggressive approach to ending rape in the Army.

Army Secretary Pete Geren opened the summit by reminding his audience that in 2007 the Army’s incidence of sexual assault was 2.6 per thousand soldiers, the highest of all the services, according to a Defense Department report released earlier this year.

“This is a profound disgrace because we’re a values-based organization,” Geren said, citing the dichotomy of having soldiers like Medal of Honor recipient Spc. Ross McGinnis and Silver Star recipient Pfc. Monica Brown in the same Army with soldiers who would prey on other soldiers.
“Sexual assault is a crime that is repugnant to the core values that define our Army,” Geren said.

“Soldiers who live the Army values must not only never commit the crimes of assault or sexual harassment but must actively work to rid our Army of these crimes. It is a soldier’s duty to protect his fellow soldier from harm — on the battlefield, in the barracks, on-post or off.”

The current Sexual Assault Prevention Response program was established in 2004 and all soldiers receive training in sexual harassment and assault. But the numbers, according to many leaders, remain unacceptably high because leaders have different levels of exposure to the problem and may not even be aware of it.

The Army’s deputy chief of staff G-1, Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, announced the launch of a four-phase, five-year campaign to address the Army’s problem and tasked the group with developing with a set of recommendations and ideas based on the strategy.

Expecting a report by Friday, Rochelle said he wanted to identify a prevention strategy and “leverage Army values to [create a program] that will become a national model for sexual assault prevention.”

A general officer steering committee established in May by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey identified shortfalls in the program and “now it’s time to get ideas from the division level,” said Carolyn Collins, program manager for the Army’s sexual assault and prevention response.

“We’re four years into this program and we’re kind of at a plateau in our reporting. We’re not where we want to be,” she said. “We’re getting out of the risk reduction focus and moving toward prevention, engaging soldiers in this fight. You’re not going to be a passive bystander.”

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