April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Department of Defense's theme this year is, "Hurts One, Affects All. Prevention of Sexual Assault is Everyone's Duty." Each week in April has a marquee message based on this theme. I want to touch on each of those messages as we enter the month and do everything in our power to eradicate sexual assault from our culture.
The first message is "Hurts One."
Sexual assault victims are violated in the worst possible way by assailants who seek to violently dominate, humiliate and punish their victims through sexual ways. The emotional impact on the victims is devastating. Compared to the general population, sexual assault victims:
- are three times more likely to suffer from depression.
- are six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
- are thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol.
- are twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs.
- are four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
In the Navy, we are Shipmates. That is a sacred, special relationship we have with one another, that in its purest sense says that we are willing to die for one another if needed. This attitude is one that speaks of valuing one another to the highest degree possible. People who value one another never even consider assault in any way, especially sexual assault.
Because we are Shipmates who value one another, sexual assault doesn't only hurt the victim. It "Affects All," the second message of the month. The impact of sexual assault is far-reaching.
First of all, it impacts everyone close to the victim. Since Shipmates care so deeply for one another, they often connect to and feel the pain and anguish of their brothers and sisters going through difficult times. When it comes to sexual assault, Shipmates can find themselves in the wake of coping with their Shipmate being sexually violated. Although not the victim, they are emotionally impacted as well.
Secondly, the mission is drastically impacted. A direct violation of the Navy Core Values, sexual assault within our ranks is corrosive to morale and operational/combat readiness. A sexual assault rocks the bedrock foundation of an organization's good order and discipline, adversely impacting mission accomplishment.
Finally, there is also a financial cost to sexual assault that impacts everyone, especially in this time when budgets are tight and funds valuable. The Veterans Administration spends approximately $10,880 on health care costs per military sexual assault survivor. Adjusting for inflation, the VA spent almost $872 million dollars on sexual assault-related health care expenditures in the year 2010 alone.
The third week's Sexual Assault Awareness Month theme is "Prevention is Everyone's Duty." Given that sexual assault impacts all of us, we in turn all play a role in preventing it. Everyone is responsible for creating a climate intolerant of sexual harassment and sexual assault. We all have a responsibility to care for the safety and professional, personal, and spiritual well-being of one another and are obligated to show everyone dignity and respect, the foundations of equal opportunity.
On the matter of sexual assault, we are all expected to exercise Active Bystander Intervention, willing to take the initiative to help someone who may be targeted for a sexual assault. Early intervention is key to stopping sexual assault well before a crime begins. If you witness sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances, get involved and intervene, reporting the incident to authorities. No degree of sexual misconduct should ever be tolerated.
This takes us to the final theme of the month, "We Will Not Tolerate Sexual Assault." This needs to be our battle cry as we seek to eliminate sexual assault. Vice Admiral Scott R. Van Buskirk, Chief of Naval Personnel and Director of the Navy's 2012 Sexual Assault Awareness Month initiative, said this:
"Sexual assault prevention is one key aspect of the Navy's 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative to increase the personal readiness of each and every Sailor within our Navy. Our goal is to foster a command climate in which reporting assault is embraced and encouraged while providing support to victims. We are also demanding a strict zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and accountability of all offenders."
Navy-wide, there were 611 reports of sexual assault in FY10. Of those, 441 were unrestricted reports. There were 214 cases of aggravated sexual assault and 285 cases of assault on a service member by a fellow service member. These numbers reflect the gravity of the problem at hand.
One sexual assault is too many. We all play a role in prevention. Let's all do our part to stop sexual assault from happening onboard our beloved Naval Air Station.