Soldiers asked to show 'social courage' to stop sexual assault
April 14, 2014
Army leaders want to stop sexual assault, but to do that, they need everyone's help.
At the Fort Belvoir Sexual Assault Awareness Month Kickoff and Proclamation Signing April 3, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow, Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, director, asked community members to stand up against sexual harassment.
"Every Soldier needs to personally demonstrate the kind of social courage it takes to step up and stop sexual assault," Snow said. "Social courage is having the guts to safely step up and stop it or to seek help when you see inappropriate or illegal behavior."
The theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month: "Speak Up! A voice unheard is an Army defeated."
During the event, hosted by the Fort Belvoir Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Office, Snow highlighted new DoD policies designed to improve sexual assault response, but stressed Soldiers' individual responsibility to intervene before assaults take place.
"Sexual assaults occur in environments where crude and offensive behavior, unwanted sexual attention, coercion and sexual harassment are tolerated, condoned, or worse, ignored. These are the behaviors we're seeking to change, and that is why we're putting specific initiatives in place," he said.
Those initiatives include the Special Victims Counsel program. (In the Military District of Washington, there are two SVCs.)
"Victims have access to trained advocates and dedicated legal representation from the time they report," Snow said.
The DoD also revised performance reports for officers and NCOs, holding them accountable for their responses to sexual harassment or assault reports, he added. It also extended the number of sexual assault response coordinators to 25,000 and now requires troop surveys at every unit to assess the command climate.
Snow said the policies are important, but to truly eliminate sexual assault, individual servicemembers need to get involved.
"You can make a difference by setting the right example and living by the standards and values that are expected of those that wear our uniform," he said.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, Joint Force Headquarters -- National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, commanding general, said sexual assaults are destroying the military values.
"This crime tears at every single one of those values and it tears us apart," he said.
However, supporting victims and giving them a voice can help reverse the process, he added.
"We've got to do everything we can to care for the victims," he said.
He encouraged responders to avoid re-traumatizing victims by making them tell their stories over and over -- instead, they can bring agencies to the victims.
Respecting victims may be already having a positive impact on the number of assaults reported, Buchanan said.
"I think that our victims, in particular, are starting to gain confidence in their chains of command. Based on that, we're seeing increases in reporting," he said. "Last fiscal year, we had a 64 percent prosecution rate for rape. That's up from 56 percent in (Fiscal Year 2012)."
"That may not sound great, but, when you compare it to a civilian prosecution rate for rape of 14 percent, it's a pretty stark difference," he added.
However, there is still a long way to go, he said.
"I would encourage all of you to be tireless in your efforts to defeat this heinous crime," he said.
During the ceremony, Buchanan signed the Military District of Washington Sexual Assault Awareness Month proclamation, reaffirming the district's dedication to eliminating sexual assault, and Lt. Col. Brian Zarchin, Fort Belvoir Headquarters Battalion commander, signed the Fort Belvoir SAAM proclamation.
Sgt. Bryce Fazenbaker, 212th Military Police Detachment, attended the kickoff and said he was glad to hear Snow and Buchanan address the importance of respecting victims.
"It's hard for a victim to come out with what happened because they get victimized so many times, trying to put their story out," he said. "It's good that the Army is really focusing on trying to reel this in, to keep someone from having to report it multiple times, and get them the help that they need as quickly as possible."
For more information on Sexual Assault Awareness Month, visit www.preventsexualassault.army.mil. For more information on Fort Belvoir SAAM events, call the Fort Belvoir SHARP Office at (703) 805-4325/4722.