The Navy Experiment To Curb Military Sexual Assault That Could Become A Model For The Armed Forces

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Recent reports that sexual assault is rampant in the armed forces have prompted outrage among officers and legislative action in Congress. Now, one naval base has seen a series of experimental reforms dramatically cut its incidence of sexual assault in less than two years, leading officials to speculate that the programs could be a model for the military at large.

Recruits attending boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois have been subject to the new initiative since its inception in 2011, according to the New York Times. The program involves a combination of early and aggressive counseling, training, intervention, and prevention administered by Navy officials, sexual assault specialists contracting with the Navy, and academics.

Many of the efforts focus on making recruits aware that excessive alcohol use can foster aggressive behavior and potential sexual assault, although it can never serve as an excuse for the crime. As such, Great Lakes officials have stepped up requirements on bars and pubs on the base, limiting of-age sailors to buying one drink at a time and showing identification. Sailors are also encouraged to self-police by calling out instances of excess drinking and inappropriate behavior, and local bar and hotel managers are given a 24-hour phone number to contact in case they see a service member making unsolicited advances.

“Bystander intervention isn’t some grandiose thing, a knight in shining armor to keep someone from being raped,” said Petty Officer Corryn Fraser, who is part of Great Lakes’ self-policing peer-to-peer training program, in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s more: ‘Hey, you shouldn’t talk to her that way. That’s inappropriate.’ Or, ‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?’ ”

Naval officers are unsure whether one particular aspect of the program is more successful than the others. But one thing is certain — sexual assaults on the base have plummeted by over 60 percent in just two years, according to random surveys of sailors at Great Lakes. That’s despite the growing prevalence of assault in the broader armed services, where the Pentagon estimates that 26,000 active duty members had faced unwanted sexual contact in 2012.

The pilot programs’ success suggest it could also be spread to other branches of the military, and Navy officials told ThinkProgress that it will be replicated in other naval bases in the coming year. “The Navy is working to distill the key insights from [Great Lakes’] experience and apply them on multiple fronts — prominently at Navy Region Southwest (San Diego), one of the largest Fleet concentration areas in the country… The next proposed locations for the Navy’s pilot program are Yokosuka, Japan and Naples, Italy within the next six months,” wrote LT Greg D. Raelson in an email.