By Christine June, USAG KaiserslauternApril 8, 2009
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Russell Strand, chief of the U.S. Army Military Police School Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Program, didn't mince his words during his sexual assault awareness training April 2 at the Woodlawn Golf Course on Ramstein Air Base.
"We need to make the Army the last place a sex offender would want to be," said Strand, who has more than 30 years of law enforcement, investigative and consultation experience. "We need to declare war on the sex offender in the Army - just like we did with drunk driving."
Sponsored by the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, his almost three-hour presentation showed new teaching methods to prevent and respond to sexual assaults to those in the community who in one way or the other are involved with these cases - known as the first responders.
Strand also taught first responders in the Heidelberg military community on April 3.
Close to 50 first responders in the Kaiserslautern military community who attended the briefing were Army and Air Force physicians, mental health providers, military and security police, victim advocate coordinators and unit leadership from commanders to first sergeants.
"He really delved into all the stereotypes and myths and picked them apart and helped us to understand why it isn't working - why it contributes to the problem and not the solution," said Lisa Velez, the garrison's Victim Advocate coordinator, who organized this event for the garrison's observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Velez said this was the first time she had heard him speak, and what she really liked about Strand's presentation was what he said after he explained the problems and concerns with the current program of dealing with sex offenders, responding to victims and even, understanding trauma.
"He then provided us with the tools to move forward," she said. "Down to what questions we need to ask (victims) and how to understand the behaviors - it made us a little uncomfortable, but if we understand it, then we know what we are dealing with - we are not just functioning on the assumptions or myths that clearly aren't applicable."
At times - his language was not fit for polite company. Then again, sex offenders aren't exactly what many would call polite company, but Strand stressed that's exactly where they are.
"And, they are in our Army, our Air Force, our Navy and our Marine Corps - our churches, our schools, our homes, our workplaces ... in the general public, about five percent of men are sex offenders," said Strand, citing different resource projects.
Other disturbing statistics - from different resource projects - Strand talked about were: six percent of women report sexual assaults, one percent of men report it, and only three percent of sex offenders are caught.
"One of the things I want to get across is that we are doing a great job," he said, in the first hour of his presentation, "in trying to identify sex offenders. We are doing far more than most civilian organizations to include colleges and universities."
However, he continued, "there's a whole lot more research" that the Army has been looking at to find better ways to help understand the victim's experience; to help identify the sex offender for who they are and hold them accountable; and to trained first responders to understand that their instincts are not always enough.
"First of all, we (people in general) believe we can tell when people are lying - those very things like eye movements, stuttering, body movements, (disconnected) recounts - those kind of things that we are erroneously trained to believe that people do when they lie are the things that trauma victims - i.e. sexually assault victims - do naturally." Strand then bought it home when he said, "Therefore, we often times think that sexually assault victims are lying when they are actually showing us trauma."
When his words hit the audience, they - not for the first or last time - gasped, and Strand waited until he saw that they understood.
"Wow! (Strand) just bought so much insight - I thought it was fantastic," Velez said.
On similar lines of what Strand was teaching, the Department of Defense has launched a new Web site and campaign to give military members fresh initiatives and teaching methods to prevent sexual assault. This new Web site is www.sapr.mil.
For a list of garrison events during April's Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities, go to its Web site, www.kaiserslautern.army.mil.
(Editor's Note: Christine June Austin writes for the USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)