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NCOs focus of new anti sex-assault push

May. 19, 2013 - 04:43PM   |  
Interactive class raises assault awareness
Marines and sailors use 'stop' cards to show presenters when they think a scenario has gone too far during a Sex Signals presentation April 10 at Camp Hansen. Sex Signals is different from typical sexual assault prevention programs because it incorporates improvisation, education and audience participation to provide insight on dating, sex and consent. (Lance Cpl. Brianna Turner/U.S. Marines)
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Junior Marines and noncommissioned officers will receive enhanced training in the wake of a May 8 report from the Pentagon indicating sexual assaults are up, but that's only one piece of the Marine Corps' new prevention efforts.

Junior Marines and noncommissioned officers will receive enhanced training in the wake of a May 8 report from the Pentagon indicating sexual assaults are up, but that's only one piece of the Marine Corps' new prevention efforts.

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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Junior Marines and noncommissioned officers will receive enhanced training in the wake of a May 8 report from the Pentagon indicating sexual assaults are up, but that’s only one piece of the Marine Corps’ new prevention efforts.

Last year in the Corps, the number of reported sex assaults climbed to 346, up from 334 in 2011. Across the military, there were 3,734 reported assaults in 2012, which included incidents involving civilians, but that is a fraction of the estimated 26,000 incidents last year — the vast majority unreported. That number is up 37 percent from the last survey in 2011.

With the services and their prevention initiatives under intense scrutiny from Congress, Marine leaders are focused on destigmatizing victims, creating an environment that encourages them to report assaults, and developing new mandatory training that empowers would-be bystanders to intervene when they observe a Marine behaving inappropriately or being treated unprofessionally. The Corps also is working with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to prosecute the offenders they ferret out.

The new scenario-based training aims to teach Marines the appropriate responses for situations that may unfold in a bar, the barracks or the workplace. The focus is on privates through sergeants, many in their late teens and early 20s, who are considered the most at risk, said Col. Michael Hudson, who heads the Corps’ Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Branch here at Manpower and Reserve Affairs’ Marine and Family Programs Division.

Starting now, all newly promoted corporals and sergeants must complete “Take a Stand” training, according to Marine administrative message 234/13, signed May 2. Similar training will be expanded to privates, privates first class and lance corporals in early 2014. Marines already have been receiving “all-hands” SAPR training, but officials want to develop specific courses tailored to each rank.

NCOs will undergo 10 to 12 hours of training, during which they will be shown videos that portray six compromising scenarios. In one, a group of Marines at a sports bar spots a couple on their first date. When the girl goes to the restroom, her date appears to slip something in her drink. The video is paused and a discussion held to determine the appropriate course of action.

An additional eight scenarios are in development. Each will focus on a Marine’s specific level of responsibility, Hudson said. For NCOs, they could include an emphasis on keeping other Marines out of trouble through mentorship. Forprivates through lance corporals, it may focus more on individual safety and staying out of trouble.

Marine Corps headquarters is using the Marine Corps Total Force System to track which Marines have and have not completed the mandatory courses.

The big picture

The Corps’ pushback against sexual assault went into overdrive last year, when the commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, toured the fleet delivering his Heritage Brief, in which he told officers and staff NCOs that sexual assault is a stain on the Corps’ honor.

During an appearance May 7 before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Amos apologized for “the shameful behavior of my Marines.”

Hudson, a former Marine expeditionary unit commander, was brought to Quantico in August to “operationalize” the Corps’ sexual assault prevention efforts. In November, he launched “the strike phase,” which began with a symposium here attended by all generals from across the service.

The message was clear: Sexual predators must no longer be allowed to hide, and victims must no longer be abandoned or ostracized. Hudson developed courses for commanders, pre- and post-deployment training, additional training for recruits at the Corps’ two depots, training for recruiters and additional SAPR training for the corporals and sergeants courses.

Despite the recent numbers, Hudson says he is encouraged. The data spike does not necessarily signify an increase in incidents, he said, but rather an increase in reporting. That is the result of having more civilian and uniformed victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators. There are now at least two uniformed victim advocates within each battalion, and more at the regimental level, where SARCs are also assigned.

“Because of the underreported nature of this crime, reporting is the bridge to both accountability and the victim care,” Hudson said. “Marines need to know they can come forward.”

Officials are bolstering support for victims with advocates of varying ranks. Commanders may choose advocates that other Marines naturally feel safe talking to, Hudson said. For example, they might choose a sergeant and a captain, both known for strong character and mentorship abilities, to ensure every enlisted Marine or officer is confident that their case is being handled effectively, with discretion. The service is hiring an additional 25 full-time civilian SARCs and 22 full-time SAPR victim advocates by October. They will serve at the Marine expeditionary force, division, wing or group level, or select MOS schools, to augment the 70 SARCs and 955 UVAs already fielded. By September, major installations will have a Sexual Assault Response Team proficient in forensic evidence collection and victim advocacy.

Last, criminal investigations are handled outside the chain of command by the NCIS to allay fears of a conflict of interest or favoritism, which some victims worry will bias a commander against them and result in reprisals. That means more victims are getting help — and more perpetrators are being investigated, Hudson said. It’s not clear what percentage of sex assault reports ultimately lead to convictions, but Amos said May 7 that the number has doubled over the past 12 months.

Another important piece of the solution is making sure victims understand their options, Hudson said. They can make a restricted report, which will help them receive assistance but withholds details from their commanders and does not result in punishment for the perpetrator. Unrestricted reports are preferred, Hudson said. That allows commanders to help more directly and call in the NCIS.

Officials also created “eight-day briefs,” which require commanders to complete paperwork within eight days of receiving a report. They must inform victims of all the resources available, including expedient, discreet transfers to a new unit that has an opening in their specific job, so they can continue their career and escape ongoing threats to their well-being.

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