WASHINGTON – Sexual assault has no place in the Defense Department, a senior Pentagon official said April 2, calling on the workforce to be part of the solution.
In a keynote address kicking off Aberdeen Proving Ground’s observance of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica L. Wright said sexual assault is a national issue that also affects the Defense Department’s military and civilian workforce.
The theme for this year’s observance — underscored in a message that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent to the Department’s workforce today is, “We own it … we’ll solve it … together.”
“Although we address sexual assault in the month of April, this is an issue that needs to be addressed every day of our lives,” Wright told an audience of service members and civilian employees.
The Defense Department is a microcosm of America, she added, where employees bring their values and how they were raised to the workforce.
“I often say if we’re in Afghanistan and we (see) something unsafe, (or) not akin to the values we have grown up with, we would tell that person to stop what they’re doing, because they’re going to affect our well-being and their well-being,” she said. “Yet when we are here in the United States, and we do something that’s not akin to … values in a social network, sometimes we have a hard time crossing that boundary and saying, ‘This affects the life of a service member or a civilian we work with, and it’s inappropriate.’”
The Defense Department doesn’t condone sexual assault, Wright said. “We don’t tell jokes of a sexual nature, we don’t condone unwanted sexual behaviors, and we clearly don’t condone sexual assault.”
Just as everyone knows people who drink a lot of coffee, exercise a great deal or are “Facebook junkies,” Wright said, everyone also knows someone who doesn’t live by the Defense Department’s values and ethos.
“I ask that if you know that person, tell (him or her) to stop it, and make sure you report bad behavior should you see it,” she said. “That’s the only way we’re going to stop it.”
Wright said she joined the military in 1975 as a member of the Women’s Army Corps, at a time when having a drink at the post club was condoned. “But in our military now, … we don’t condone drinking (or) drinking and driving. We don’t have those social things like we used to, because it’s just not who we are,” she said.
The military culture has changed radically with regard to drug and alcohol problems and racial tensions it had in the past, Wright said, adding that she doesn’t see sexual assault any differently.
“I ask each and every one of you to take back a message with you today that says, ‘Every single day, we don’t condone (sexual assault),’” she said.