The Navy’s No. 2 officer implored leaders Tuesday to get a handle on the rise in reported sexual assaults, which increased a startling 33 percent in the last fiscal year, a message that comes as the service prepares to implement new programs fleet-wide to address the all too often blue-on-blue crimes.
“Sexual assault ruins lives, divides teams and erodes trust,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson said in a “Personal For” message to all flag officers, commanding officers and officers-in-charge, which was provided to Navy Times. “As leaders, we must provide our sailors a responsible, professional, and safe environment in which to work and live.”
Ferguson’s message comes as public concern grows and lawmakers weigh revisions to military law that would empower prosecutors and strip commanding officers of some authority in an attempt to bring more prosecutions.
For the Navy, the numbers are troubling. In fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30 and is the latest year that data was available, sailors reported 773 assaults, which range from unwanted touching to rape. At that rate, two sailors are assaulted every day.
The “overwhelming majority of both victims and offenders are junior sailors, both male and female,” Ferguson said, based on the Navy’s analysis of the reports and anonymous surveys. Most of the incidents occurred after the work day and involved alcohol; half take place on base or aboard ship.
However, some officials believe that the rise in reported assaults is evidence of a sea change. Based on survey responses, they conclude that sexual assault is an under-reported crime and see the increasing number of victims coming forward as evidence that education, such as last year’s fleet-wide training, is taking root.
Ferguson made clear that the Navy’s leadership continues to view sexual assault as a problem that needs more attention and solutions.
“Shortly, we will be announcing additional policies and programs to address sexual assault across the Navy,” he said. “Your support remains absolutely critical to making these measures effective.”