Building trust, vigilance key to defeating sexual assault
April 3, 2013
SEMBACH, Germany -- "Our Army's very foundations are the values of integrity, honor and service. In focusing on those basics, we reinforce our strength as an Army." That was the message Installation Management Command Europe Region Director Kathleen Marin shared with more than 300 service members and civilian employees during one of many U.S. Army Europe Readiness and Resilience Day activities aimed at combating sexual violence in the military.
The three-hour event featured an educational presentation of "The Invisible War" and a panel discussion between the audience and legal, law enforcement, psychology, and health experts.
Before showing the documentary about sexual assault in the military, Marin shared several national statistics about rape. She noted that it is the fastest growing crime in the United States and one out of three women may become the victim in their lifetime. In the Army alone, there were 1,695 cases of sexual assault reported last year.
The Army is not immune to the overall national trend, experts warned, but its core values can and will combat it.
"We in the Army have a special culture," Marin said. Our culture is based on trust. Our Army doesn't work, our leadership doesn't work, without trust. The Army is values based. We have values as well as trust to make this work. We have discipline. So when a sexual assault occurs, those things are betrayed. It cuts at the very fabric of what we are all about."
IMCOM Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Hartless also warned against complacency. "Some still believe 'not in my unit,' but sexual assault happens and it's there. How do we fix this? As a soldier we are obligated to stop it. We won't leave Soldiers behind on the battlefield, and we won't leave our friends behind in garrison."
U.S. Army Europe Commanding General Lt. Gen. Don Campbell and Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport also shared a video message with the audience.
"We need a climate free of victim blaming or fear. It takes a team effort," Campbell said. "As a profession of arms, we have a personal duty to intervene."
In a Department of Defense statement read before "The Invisible War" was shown, sexual assault was described as an "affront to the basic American values the military defends."
After the film, Family Advocacy Program manager Brandi Stauber opened up the expert panel discussion about sexual assault prevention, discussed changes made to improve victim rights, and behaviors of offenders.
"Drinking doesn't cause rape, short skirts don't cause rape," said Europe Regional Medical Command Master Sgt. Jason Reisler. "Rapists cause rape, and we need to get people to actually talk about this and know we can intervene and make a difference. Rapists are predators who stalk their victims and attack when they are most vulnerable, sometimes using alcohol as a weapon."
Reisler added that maintaining a culture of trust can be taken with small steps everyone could accomplish at their level.
"Just you saying something could prevent something," Reisler said, adding that personal behavior contributes to the overall team environment. "Do you tolerate jokes or inappropriate language?"
Leadership at all levels was a reoccurring theme during the discussion with the audience. "The commander sets the tone in the unit," said Kaiserslautern Criminal Investigation Command Special Agent in Charge Joshua P. Nicholson.
"See something, say something," said IMCOM Europe Chaplain Col. Christopher Wisdom. "Put someone acting outside our values at parade rest and address the matter on the spot. This problem starts in the mind before it ever manifests itself physically. Intervening and knowing their people is what a leader does."
In closing the session, Marin noted the improvements that Army is making in combating sexual assault, especially moving from a reactive to proactive posture.
"This documentary has changed the nature of the conversation, and I am proud of the senior leaders using opportunities like today to change the nature of the conversation. The military has historically been a catalyst for social change, and I am proud of the bravery displayed by those involved in talking about this."