Battle buddy concept combats sex assaults

By William H. McMichael – Staff writer
Posted : Friday Mar 6, 2009 15:49:03 EST

Looking out for one’s “battle buddy” while off duty as well as on has emerged as a central element of all four services’ efforts to combat sexual assault within the ranks, service program managers told the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee Friday.

“We believe it is the duty of every soldier to intervene and stop incidents before they occur,” said Carolyn Collins, program manager for the Army’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program. “Soldiers who fail to intervene and protect their fellow soldier from harassment or the risk of sexual assault have forsaken the warrior ethos to never leave a fallen comrade.”

The Air Force has introduced a similar concept that also targets those who may fail to act in the face of peer pressure. “We … believe the most effective prevention efforts must be focused on airmen who by their participation in peer groups and activities might either actively or passively provide support or camouflage for the sexual predators in their midst,” said Charlene Bradley, the Air Force’s assistant deputy for force management integration.

The issue has now garnered high-level Defense Department interest, particularly in the wake of news such as last year’s Pentagon report that found upwards of three-quarters of all sexual assault victims do not report the crime, and a Government Accountability Office finding that 52 percent of service members at 14 installations who had been sexually assaulted over the previous 12 months had not reported the assaults.

In addition to bystander intervention, all the services have implemented strategies that also involve mandatory training, assessments of their programs and marketing campaigns, the program managers said.

The campaigns all include broadcast videos that seek to get under viewers’ skins and raise awareness about the issue. In the Navy’s “Megan’s Story,” scenes of a young male sailor talking up a female sailor in a bar are effectively interspliced with shadowy, quick-cut and jarring depictions, with sound, of her subsequent rape.

“Wayne is, in fact, your typical rapist,” the narrator intones. “He doesn’t wear a ski mask. He doesn’t use a weapon. He uses manipulation, planning and premeditation in committing his rapes. The reason that rapists like Wayne are rarely reported and are almost never prosecuted is that they appear to be behaving normally.”

Army and Air Force videos were also shown to the committee.

But John Foubert, an associate professor and program coordinator for the College Student Development Master’s Program at Oklahoma State University, said these vidoes don’t always take the right approach. “Megan’s Story,” for instance, focused on the crime and not bystander intervention, even though a couple of other sailors were nearby, he said.

“I don’t think that the videos by and large that we saw today are … in line with what is good practice in rape prevention programming,” Foubert said. “I think that the production quality of the videos is good. I think of the ones that we saw, the public service announcements, the little snippets show the most promise. And I think they show the most promise in the sense that … those videos can reinforce bystander intervention messages.”

Foubert got no argument from Kaye Whitley, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, or SAPRO.

“The prevention strategy that we have just completed and presented to our leadership is based on research, and the two [videos] that Dr. Foubert said were getting closer to what they should be were evidence-based. And so we are moving in that direction. We have a lot more to do, but we are not shy about reaching out and asking for help.”

Two members asked whether pre-induction screening might be a way to spot likely rapists before they join the ranks. Foubert said it would be highly difficult.

He noted that men who are more likely to rape are likely to drink more, be more hyper-masculine and have characteristics that he said tend to be more associated with men who go into the military.

“Someone could have all of those traits and not be someone who is going to commit a rape,” Foubert added. “But, yes, there are those traits. And you could screen for them. In some cases … the screening tool would be rather lengthy. Many of them are complex personality variables that would take a sophisticated psychological test to get at.”

That might be difficult for a recruiter untrained in administering such tests, he said, because what they might be looking for is “something like a sociopathic personality disorder. Sociopaths by definition are very good at hiding their motives.”

Another expert on the panel agreed that such a screen would be problematic.

“I’m skeptical of a magic screening device that can be done on the scale with the military recruiting,” said David Lee, director of prevention services for the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “But I think there are ways that we should also be looking at how we can bring people into the military who are going to become active bystanders, and be able to create the values and the behaviors that we’re expecting within the armed services.”

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