PEARL HARBOR - Little can deter the power of military-grade teamwork. However, a consistent affront arises and inexorably destroys the solidarity and camaraderie so many Sailors work hard to build. The problem is sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Since July 25, Navy.mil and Marines.mil began publishing the results of Special and General Courts-Martial, including sexual assault cases in an effort to increase the transparency of the department's criminal proceedings.
"Sailors need to be made aware that Sailors take care of Sailors," said U.S. Pacific Fleet Master Chief Marco Ramirez. "We count on each other to save our ship, our shipmates, and ourselves. Sailors who hurt other Sailors violate our Core Values and there is no room in the U.S. Navy for those Sailors."
A recent technological development that Sailors can take advantage of to mitigate a potentially risky situation is to download and use a free smartphone application called "Circle of 6."
This app, which was initially developed for college students to provide an extra line of defense from violence, sexual assault and otherwise potential unsafe or uncomfortable situations, allows users to quickly send a distress text message to six people assigned to their "circle of six" - a group of six friends who can be trusted during an emergency.
According to Ramirez, it is absolutely not okay to turn a blind eye to the problem of sexual assault. "As I get out to the Fleet and see what is acceptable in our society I see a thin line out there of what acceptable behavior is. The way men treat women is something we need to discuss. There are people out there who look for the drunkest one. This behavior is not consistent with our Core Values and is what gets a lot of Sailors in trouble."
Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 3rd Class Anthony Mehring echoed Ramirez' sentiments toward the prevention of sexual assault.
"There are a few things you can do to prevent an incident, which basically comes down to doing what's right when the circumstances arrive," Mehring said. "Using the buddy system and looking out for signs of someone being a predator toward one of your shipmates are effective ways to stop something from happening."
Lt. j.g. Kelly Agha, training officer and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) coordinator onboard the Pearl Harbor-based guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97), talked about the importance of looking out for shipmates.
"You've got to put others before yourself," said Agha. "If you see something happening - even if you're drinking underage - it is your obligation to stand up for that Sailor."
The Navy takes the consequences of perpetrators quite seriously, stressing how sexual harassment and assault will not be tolerated.
"The bottom line - once a report has been substantiated the offending Sailor is caught and will be prosecuted, disciplined, and separated from the U.S. Navy," Ramirez said. "On the opposite side the victim seeks counseling and may be transferred from their command. This affects Sailors, commands, and families."
The fleet-wide SAPR training teaches Sailors the effective ways they can report sexual assault incidents.
"Once an incident is made known to the command the victim elects the process in which the report is made - restricted or unrestricted," Ramirez said. "The question - 'is this working?' - I would say yes, without a doubt - Sailors trust their leadership to do the right thing and reports of past incidents are being addressed. The fact that leaders make this a readiness issue makes it a priority coupled with the fact that Sailors trust their leadership to report these cases points in the right direction. Bottom line: In order to kill this beast we need to attack prevention."
In addition to giving victims an avenue to report cases, the SAPR program also provides services that help survivors deal with the occurrences.
"The SAPR program is important because it gives hope to the survivors," said Agha. "It provides for the victims a way to cope with it, a way to get justice and get medical attention and counseling - it gives them what they need to help them through a sexual assault."
Although the SAPR training and program seem to be effective, it is not the only avenue that must be traveled in order to reduce the incidents of sexual assault.
"Our business is to run the Navy, so we need to fix this problem," stated Ramirez. "Confidence and trust equals change - cultural change. Sailors are mission oriented and we need to continue with work center safety as we fight to prevent Sexual Assault. Bystander intervention can work to change the culture if it's used on a continuum basis when we let each other know what is acceptable and what is not. We need to stand up and encourage each other to break through the peer pressures of acceptable culture and make it known that Sailors who abuse women, or abuse young girls, or abuse boys, or abuse other men that that behavior is not acceptable - we need to speak out. We need more Sailors with the guts and strength to stand up and do the right thing."
According to Ramirez, Sailors must remain vigilant, on and off duty. "Let's take care of each other," Ramirez continued. "Help change the culture and correct the behavior once you hear it - in the work place - jokes, offensive material that is not professional for the work spaces. Once you identify behavior - correct it. Once Sailors walk by this behavior they condone it. We also need to report the results of intervention to the chain of command so we can spread the word of what worked."
In order to get feedback from the fleet, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the 2013 Department of the Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response survey in ALNAV 070/13. This voluntary, anonymous survey will be conducted from 15 October 2013 through 6 January 2014.
The results of this survey will provide insight into the true frequency of sexual assaults involving Sailors, the circumstances surrounding those assaults, and factors affecting their reporting. This information is critical to inform the Navy's SAPR program progress, future policy, training, messaging and awareness. It can be accessed from any web-enabled computer, tablet or smartphone at www.donsapro.navy.mil/donsas.html. The password for all military participants is 2013Survey.
Ramirez also remarked on the efforts toward preventing sexual crimes being long-lasting, rather than treating the problem with a temporary solution.
"It takes time to change the culture, so we need to stay on it," mention Ramirez. "Identify the behavior in the work centers and correct it then. By doing that we gain our Sailors trust to do the right thing. It's like seeing trash on the ground and you stop to pick it up and throw it away. Do the same thing - identify it and address it so we can earn Sailors trust and confidence - by doing that we can change the culture."