I hope you are aware by now that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The overarching theme for the month is "Hurts One, Affects All” and in that light, I also hope you believe that not only is prevention of sexual assault is everyone’s responsibility, but it is very likely that someone you work with or know personally has been sexually assaulted. All of us are affected as well as have a role to play.
First and foremost, supporting the sexual assault survivor and the trauma they have suffered should be the focus of all initial activity. Be supportive. Be THERE for them as you are able. Longer term, there is often a fundamental change in the way they look at things after an assault. Someone who has previously been open and friendly can become very guarded. It’s easy for them to lose faith in a system that may have failed them and it’s harder to trust those around them.
As a friend or coworker of the survivor, you may find yourself wondering if they could have done more to prevent the assault from happening. This can affect unit cohesion, morale and its impact on the work environment can tear a unit apart. This is especially true given the alarming fact that statistically, sexual assaults are often committed by someone who knows the person.
When someone suffers a sexual assault, there are very concrete losses in terms of time, unit cohesion, money spent investigating and prosecuting (which we WILL do) and our reputation as an institution. According to independent polling, today the armed forces consistently rank near the top of any list of public trust, but it doesn’t take more than a few incidents to change that.
If an assault happens in my unit, as a commander, I would feel I’ve let that person down. I’ve let their family down, too, and ultimately I have failed my unit in some way because prevention IS everyone’s duty and communicating that message starts with me.
This is going to sound a bit over the top, but we are an all volunteer service and everyone wearing the uniform today has raised their hand and said they were willing to do the hard thing, to do what only a small percentage of Americans do: to serve their country in the United States Armed Forces. Some of these brave volunteers are attacked by fellow service members. This is a betrayal of all of our core values.
Don’t let yourself or your shipmates become part of that “All.” Look out for them, look at the situations you find yourself in and ask yourself if something seems a little off. Don’t become someone who feels like they could have, would have, should have done something. “All” doesn’t just mean everyone is affected, “All” also means that everyone can make a difference.
Capt. Frederick Kass
Naval Support Activity Bethesda