Victims advocates discuss sexual assault issues in the miltary
April 19, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- There's little chance that Pamela Jacobs will run out of reasons to speak about sexual assault awareness. With 1,439 cases of forcible rape reported to law enforcement in South Carolina last year, the executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence has enough subject matter to prompt thousands of discussions.
Jacobs was the guest speaker at a sexual assault awareness luncheon Monday at Fort Jackson, and her presentation was fueled, in part, by the release of a Department of Defense earlier in the week highlighting new military initiatives to crack down on sexual assault.
Most victims of sexual assault are women, and most of those were assaulted before age 25, she said. The average age of victims is something that Fort Jackson leaders should take note of, she said, because of the many young Soldiers passing through the gates of the post as part of Basic Combat Training. The demographic most often involved in sexual assault cases in the military is also the demographic Fort Jackson has been tasked to train.
"The most common cases involved an 18-25 year old male Soldier (who assaulted) a female Soldier, and they used alcohol to do it," Jacobs told the audience, which was mostly made up of sexual assault victim advocates from Fort Jackson.
Reports of sexual assaults in the military rose 1 percent in 2011, according to an annual U.S. Department of Defense study released earlier this month. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are treating sexual assault and harassment as leadership issues and have announced new initiatives to stop sexual assaults in the military. These initiatives include elevating the level of investigations applied to sexual assault allegations, and requiring unit commanders to report allegations of rape, forcible sodomy and sexual assault to a court-martial convening authority.
The initiatives also call for establishing a "special victims unit" for each service, requiring sexual assault policies to be explained to all service members when beginning active duty, maintaining records of disciplinary and administrative proceedings related to sexual assault, and improved dissemination of sexual assault resources.
Defining sexual assault as "any unwanted sexual contact," Jacobs said it's time to put the burden of preventing sexual assault on the parties responsible.
"I think we spend too much time telling victims what to do, and not enough time telling perpetrators what not to do," she said. "It's a crime about power and control, just like domestic violence."
In regards to sexual assault, the military has very specific needs, Jacobs said, which is something she takes into consideration before speaking for uniformed audiences.
"I want to make sure that I'm not buying into the stereotype that military members are more violent, because I know that's not true," said Jacobs, whose husband is in the Army. "Otherwise, groups are the same. These are people who care about the issue. I used to think law enforcement was one of the most difficult (groups to address,) but when you frame it as something that affects all of us, everyone is willing to listen."
Jacobs brought a different perspective to the kinds of issues Fort Jackson's victims advocates routinely handle, said Master Sgt. Chanley Pickard.
"Sometimes it's good to get it from a different perspective," Pickard said, "to see how South Carolina and the civilian sector sees the issues we deal with on a daily basis in the military. It helps us provide support for some of our victims using some of those techniques that she spoke about in the workshop."