By Erin WittkopApril 16, 2014
"When I say we've learned a lot about this issue, I think leaders at all levels have learned a lot about sexual harassment and sexual assault and the linkage on that continuum. What we want is we want climates that promote dignity and respect and team commitment and professional values." -- Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, Defense Department Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office director
Called by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel "a despicable crime and one of the most serious challenges facing this department," military sexual assault is at the forefront of leaders' minds as the Defense Department, Joint Chiefs and military service branches work ardently to eradicate it from within the ranks.
No one knows this better than Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office director. Tasked with leading the charge to eliminate this toxic crime, Maj. Gen. Snow recently sat down to reflect on the 10 years since the SAPRO office opened its doors, what leaders' have learned and what the DoD and service branches are doing now to strengthen the fight.
Thinking about SAPRO's history, Maj. Gen. Snow realizes that awareness of military sexual assault and its prevalence was initially lacking and acknowledges that a decade of strategic efforts has changed that "I think we've increased our understanding of just how complex a problem sexual assault is in the military.
I think there was a period of time there where perhaps we did not know to the extent to which it was under-reported [as] a crime. I think there was a recognition that there was no silver bullet to addressing sexual assault; it would take a multi-disciplinary approach," Maj. Gen. Snow says.
They've definitely taken a multi-disciplinary approach in recent years with a strong emphasis on victim advocacy and care as they work to improve the system as a whole. In recent years, specifically the past two, the DoD has implemented a number of services to help victims get the care they need including:
• professional, credentialed sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates
• the Safe Helpline and Safe HelpRoom, a confidential telephone hotline and online chatroom available to victims 24 hours a day, seven days a week
• provisions for all medical facilities to treat sexual assaults as emergencies
• policies to expedite command transfers to eliminate the chance of victims and alleged offenders
coming into contact with one another
• specially trained investigators and prosecutors to handle sexual assaults cases
• legal counsel for victims
"What I would want victims to know is that we do have a system in place to respond to them; I want them to know we have services available," Maj. Gen. Snow says. "I would want them to know that we're there for them and all they've got to do is reach out."
While victims are at the core of leadership's concern, Maj. Gen. Snow emphasizes that they aren't the only ones on their minds. Prevention is of the utmost importance to them and putting an end to this crime is everyone's responsibility, siting social courage as a key to fighting it.
"Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, they know what right looks like because they're instilled early on in their career, from the moment they come in, with the right values. To me, social courage is when they see something that isn't right [and] having the moral courage to do something about it, even if the individual may be of a higher rank."
That's an awfully tall order but Maj. Gen. Snow points out that "when they see something that's not right and they don't say something or do something, they're in essence creating a standard in that organization that they know is not right."
He recommends that service members intervene on the spot if possible or talk to another respected authority figure if addressing a higher ranking offender doesn't seem appropriate or safe. "[If] they're not comfortable confronting that leader, tell somebody else of equal or higher rank so that something is done about it."
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