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More sexual assault reports show growing trust in system

Defense Secretary Ash Carter tells the Pentagon press corps that the fiscal year 2014 annual report on sexual assault in the military helps the services understand and correct flaws in the program May 1, 2015. (DoD photo/Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt)

Defense Secretary Ash Carter tells the Pentagon press corps that the fiscal year 2014 annual report on sexual assault in the military helps the services understand and correct flaws in the program May 1, 2015. (DOD photo/Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- More military service academy cadets and midshipmen in the 2014-15 school year reported instances of sexual assault and harassment, indicating growing trust in the reporting system, a Defense Department official said Jan. 7.

Dr. Nathan W. Galbreath, senior executive advisor for the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), said that the increase in reporting suggests growing confidence in the response system.

Speaking via teleconference and joined by Dr. Elizabeth P. Van Winkle of the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), Galbreath said the department’s assessment teams found “good indicators of progress” in the DOD Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies for academic program year 2014-2015.

The academies received 91 sexual assault reports over the 2014-15 school year, an increase of 32 reports from the previous school year, Galbreath said.

Reports of sexual assault do not reflect how often the crime actually occurs, he added. Instead, he said, the department and many civilian agencies use scientific surveys to estimate how many people experienced a sexual assault.

Direct supervision

“We’ve seen a lot of the progress we expected to see when (then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel) last year ordered the superintendents to take sexual assault prevention and response programs under their direct supervision,” Galbreath said.

Some elements of the report change from year to year, but this one contains the results of on-site assessments by DOD SAPRO officials and the DOD Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, he said.

It also includes statistical data on sexual harassment complaints and sexual assault reports, and results of on-site focus groups with academy cadets or midshipmen, faculty and staff, which were conducted by DMDC officials and documented in DMDC’s 2015 Service Academy Gender Relations Focus Group Report.

Galbreath said the academies also received 28 complaints of sexual harassment during the last school year.

Preventing sexual harassment

“The service academies have done quite a bit to emphasize sexual assault prevention and response, but sexual harassment prevention and response has not received equal time and attention,” he said, adding that SAPRO encourages the academies further to incorporate sexual harassment into training, programming and prevention work.

The reason, Galbreath explained, is that sexual harassment is highly correlated with the occurrence of sexual assault in the military, and the RAND Military Workplace Study confirmed this in 2014.

“We believe that by working to prevent sexual harassment we'll also be preventing sexual assault,” he said.

The report contains commendations for notable practices, suggested program enhancements and action items for recommended fixes, Galbreath said.

Notable practices

“One of the things we saw at the Naval Academy that all could benefit from was a contract that each sports team member signs with the academy,” he said, “basically agreeing to a standard of conduct that … applies not only to the sports team members but also to the coaches.”

Galbreath said the SAPRO office thought that was a great way to set expectations and they’re encouraging West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy to take a look at the practice.

In her comments, Van Winkle discussed the focus groups that DMDC conducted across the academies.

One thing the study found is that the emphasis on and engagement by academy leadership has been effective in getting students to take more responsibility for sexual assault and sexual harassment, she said.

“It's not just that cadets and midshipmen understand what sexual assault and sexual harassment are or how to report these behaviors,” Van Winkle said, “but they're starting to understand how they can play a more active role in prevention and response … it's not only an increased awareness but a decreased tolerance for these types of behaviors.”

Social media also plays a role in students’ perspective about the issue, she said.

“We heard a lot about Yik Yak, which seems to be a common platform for posting comments and opinions,” Van Winkle explained.

The smartphone app lets users anonymously post comments, she said, so some have engaged in behaviors like sexual harassment, victim blaming or inappropriate sexist comments.

Van Winkle said focus group results show that students are starting to take more accountability on the site by self-policing posts, “often because of the way leadership has (discussed) how inappropriate comments … impact the reputation of the school, the military and the department as a whole.”


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