When you run out of good PR ideas, what’s the next step (according to Navy brass)?
Apparently, it’s self-immolation.
This is from Secretary Mabus last week, in response to an alleged sexual assault case at USNA:
“We have failed at the Naval Academy, in terms of preventing this.”
There are two competing, conflicted clauses in the Secretary’s Eeyore-esque statement here: 1) The difference between success and failure for Navy SAPR, and 2) The difference between prevention and pragmatism in sex crimes.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUCCESS AND FAILURE. The problem many years ago was simply paraphrased: “Too many instances of sexual assault go unreported.” We were told nearly a decade ago that “only 1 in 6 sexual assaults is ever reported.”
Fast forward. The Navy implements an aggressive Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, consisting of SARCs, medical personnel, chaplains and Victim Advocates in every command, comprising an approximately estimated 10% of the naval workforce. Multiple trainings are given year-round, and SAPR personnel mirror their civilian counterparts in organizations such as RAINN and
What was the inevitable byproduct of a SAPR program that encouraged people to report sexual assaults? An increase in reports of sexual assault, of course! As sailors and Marines became more aware of their rights and the healthier culture that SAPR fostered, they came forward to make either restricted or unrestricted reports. This is a golden example of soldiers taking care of soldiers.
And now, without amending their view on “only 1 in 6 sexual assaults is ever reported,” DoD and Navy leadership sees this increase in reporting–which was the whole point of the process–as a failure on the part of Navy leaders and followers at every step of the way.
To be sure, leadership has had to answer to Congress and the media as to what’s behind certain high-profile cases of sexual assault. (See below for a discussion of prevention versus pragmatism) But the real failure here has not been with the SAPR program or sailors doing the right thing. The failure has been with leadership’s inability to explain to the American public exactly what the Navy is doing and what it means.
For all the ridiculous increases in SAPR training to lower-level personnel, it seems that perhaps the upper-tier leadership could use more mandatory briefs on just what the SAPR program is actually doing?
CREATING A CULTURE WHERE SEXUAL ASSAULT IS UNACCEPTABLE IS OUR BUSINESS. When sailors use drugs or get DUIs, that does not mean we have “failed” in our efforts to curb those vices. The Naval Academy–nor the Navy–has not failed in their efforts.
THE DIFFEREENCE BETWEEN PREVENTION AND PRAGMATISM. Can we completely and totally eradicate sexual assault in the human race? I’m an optimist, and I believe that the power of good people doing good is the driving force behind human progress. But as with poverty, murder and other things we wish to “eradicate,” evolving standards of acceptability and measures of performance will dictate that preventing sexual assaults from ever happening is akin to a pipe dream. It would be like trying to eliminate deaths in the Navy by prohibiting ships launching from aircraft carriers or maintenance to be done in Engineering.
So, then, can we completely eradicate sexual assault in the Navy? The answer is no. What we can do is just as important: we can reduce the instances of sexual assault, promote a healthy culture and provide the best, most unbiased support structure to victims possible. All of these things–ALL OF THEM–the Navy has been doing over at least the past five years as part of the SAPR program.
The Secretary is right on the syntax–we have “failed in preventing this,” but so too has humankind in preventing sexual assault and rape since time immemorial. But still, we elect to bludgeon ourselves with our own fists rather than show what progress we’ve actually made.
Clinging to old statistics which are not backed up by any scholarly data (see the issue I have with the “1 in 6 sexual assaults go unreported” stat), and then excorciating people who respectfully disagree with you is the sign that we are not understanding the problem and our role in curbing it. How many sexual assaults really go unreported in the Navy after the aggressive, whole-hearted implementation of the SAPR program by motivated sailors and Marines? That is really a “guess” statistic, but I’d be willing to bet the entire Pacific Fleet that it is much less than one-in-six.
Blindly pursuing “prevention”–while providing a catchy tagline for television and Congressional testimony–stymies our efforts both on base and with the general public. It stifles the good being done in the program already but so many hard working officers and enlisted. And it is not grounded in any kind of reality whatsoever.
Bottom line: We should always live our lives in service to others, providing an example to those around us. This culture–while it will not magically erase every sexual assault that might happen in the Navy–will contribute to the continuing reduction of sexual assaults service-wide.