Sexual Assault Awareness Month…Revisited

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Last week I wrote about the Navy’s plan for a stand-down to “communicate the service’s policy of zero tolerance for sexual assault while encouraging sailors to work harder to prevent attacks.” I had indicated a bit of skepticism about the leadership’s buy-in of the program…

The day after my blog was published I was invited to attend a telephone press conference with the Fleet Forces Commander, Admiral John Harvey (unfortunately held at 9 am eastern time…while I am on Pacific time, ugh!). Not being a journalist, I was thrilled to attend, even though it was much earlier than I had risen in many a year!

What I heard at that press conference made me very proud to be a retired Navy Commander, female, type 1A.

The Admiral said all the right things:

“Sexual Assault destroys readiness.”

“[Sexual] Violence is corrosive to morale.”

“Leaders must understand that sexual assault is criminal behavior, and must be dealt with as such!”

“[The Navy] has no tolerance for the crime of sexual assault.”

Oh wow. We’ve come a long way, baby, from Tailhook 1991, when assaulting whatever female, military or civilian who happened to attend the party, was fair game .

Admiral Harvey, a man I’ve admired since I worked with him at the Bureau of Naval Personnel in the early 1990s (when he was a mere Commander)… indicated that, like drug abuse and motorcycle-accident prevention, the Navy can prevent sexual assault when motivated enough, given the resources, and the leadership direction to do so.

As many feminists have stated and the Navy is now echoing, sexual assault and harassment is a leadership issue. Admiral Harvey stated that leaders need to understand that each person should be treated with dignity, respect and honor. Gone are the days of conscription when an enlisted person was treated as a non-entity.

Since the advent of the all volunteer force in the early 1970s, everyone who joins the military does so because he or she wants to be there. They are professionals who think the military is a positive environment for showing one’s patriotism and service to our country. And for bettering one’s chances in life, because of the benefits accrued from military service while putting one’s life on the line for our country. That is not a gender issue.

Leadership needs to come on board with this program, and Admiral Harvey is leading the charge. Our military will only become better and more effective if all of us, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc., move forward with the concept that everyone in the military deserves respect and support.

This does not mean that we cannot chide each other, tease or joke with each other. But it does mean that we should look out for each other, not just to keep the enemy at bay, but to ensure that our “friends” do not treat our comrades as a conquest. It’s not just that “friends don’t let friends drive drunk…” it’s that friends don’t let their friends be sexually hit on, abused or otherwise disrespected. It is a team effort that starts from the top and is conveyed to every leader in the military, whether an E-4 or an O-10.

I believed Admiral Harvey. I just hope the rest of the Navy’s leadership says “Aye, Aye, Sir!” and moves out smartly to erase this culturally-endemic virus in our ranks.