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Marine Corps develops new ‘scared straight’ video to deter sex assaults

Apr. 17, 2013 - 10:58AM   |  
Lance Cpl. Jessie Lesuer, administration specialist, Installation Personnel Administration Center, holds up a stop sign during a performance of "Sex Signals." The audience was asked to watch actors perform a scenario that could potentially lead to rape, and hold up the signs when they felt the situation needed to be stopped.
Lance Cpl. Jessie Lesuer, administration specialist, Installation Personnel Administration Center, holds up a stop sign during a performance of "Sex Signals." The audience was asked to watch actors perform a scenario that could potentially lead to rape, and hold up the signs when they felt the situation needed to be stopped. (Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps’ next offensive against sexual assault in the ranks could include a “scared straight” project in which former service members who have been jailed for sex offenses offer their life stories as cautionary tales.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett unveiled plans for the unconventional training during an April 9 panel discussion at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo in Washington. The enlisted leaders on the panel were asked about the services’ ongoing efforts to combat sex crimes in the ranks.

“Just this afternoon, I sat down with our Staff Judge Advocate of the United States Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. [Vaughn] Ary, and we started looking at the next initiative,” Barrett said.

The interactive video project, he said, would feature male and female former Marines, now convicted of sex crimes.

“They introduce themselves as to who they are, where they were raised, their upbringing, what their hobbies are, so you gain a personal connection with them,” he said. “And then, all of a sudden, a few minutes into the video, you hear about what they did. They tell you how they gave up their honor and how they wish they could have gone back in time and actually paid attention to the training they were given, because their decision would have been different the night they violated one of our brothers and sisters.”

At press time, Marine officials provided no additional information about the “scared straight” video, though one official with knowledge of the project did confirm that it was in the planning stage.

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos declared war on the epidemic of sexual assault in the Corps last year, with rhetoric so forceful that some worried it would prejudice the military justice system unfairly against the accused.

“Sex assault is an ugly mark on our proud reputation; it goes against everything we claim to be as United States Marines … it is a crime,” he wrote in a May 3, 2012, White Letter.

During a visit last July to Parris Island, S.C., he struck back at a culture that allegedly tends to blame the accuser, averring that “80 percent of (reports) are legitimate sexual assaults.”

The Corps reported 333 cases of sexual assault in 2011 and 346 in 2012, though Barrett said April 9 that the numbers could show an increase in reporting, rather than a jump in the number of incidents.

In addition to Amos’ Heritage Brief tour last year, the Corps put all of its general officers through a weeklong course, led by subject matter experts, on preventing and responding to incidents of sexual assault.

The Corps also has overseen a plus-up of civilian sexual assault response coordinators, Barrett said, adding 47 more to the 17 already in the field.

Non-traditional programs already in use include an interactive improvisation-style play called “Sex Signals,” which creates various dating and social scenarios and discusses an appropriate response.

Not every innovative approach to combating sexual assault in the ranks has been successful, though.

Teambound, a video game used by the Army to play out sexual-assault-related scenarios, has come under fire as offensive to victims and ineffective. The person playing the video game is witness to a scenario that may lead to an assault if the player doesn’t intercede. A passive response from the player results in the rape of a female private by an aggressive junior soldier.

But new projects and programs, Barrett said, are the Corps’ way of getting ahead of the problem in every way it can.

“We’re not about to sit back and watch our previous initiatives take hold,” he said. “We’re constantly taking and making assessment, and we’re going to continue to improve upon the processes.”

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