ARLINGTON, Va., – The National Guard Bureau here has launched a comprehensive campaign designed to assist National Guard units in combating sexual assault as part of a military wide effort to protect victims and eradicate the crime from the ranks.
“We are helping the states with training and development of programs to address this problem at all levels,” said Jane Lux, chief of the National Guard Bureau’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. “Core competencies and objectives are being established by the Department of Defense SAPR office for each level of command.”
The campaign plan, part of a DOD-wide effort, has three phases, beginning with implementation. The first phase focuses on the defense secretary’s five lines of effort: prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy/victim assistance and assessment. The second phase is a sustainment campaign, while the third phase is aimed at improving the program through tracking, analysis, assessment and program adjustments.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, outlined in guidance to the states that sexual assault is unacceptable and a force protection issue.
“The National Guard will instill a climate where dignity, trust and respect are core values it lives by, and defines how Guardsmen treat one another,” Grass said.
As part of the first phase, the NGB conducted a mandatory training stand-down June 28 for its entire joint staff. Army and Air National Guard leaders also required training for their respective staffs.
While the military is under scrutiny because of the number of sexual assault incidents the department has experienced — as many as 26,000 by some estimates — leaders emphasized the importance of putting the issue in context.
“Sexual assault is a global problem,” said James Thompson, SAPR program management analyst. “We will never completely eliminate it, but we can take measures to ensure we have better accountability.”
That accountability is taking many forms. As an organization, Lux noted, the National Guard is taking steps to ensure victims have solid front-line assistance with unit sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates.
Full time SARCs and VAs, she added, recently attended training designed to clearly outline their responsibilities. States and units also are reviewing background checks for these professionals, as well as ensuring that mandated ethics training is happening.
By ensuring the front-line advocates receive annual refresher training on practical victim advocacy skills as mandated by the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Lux said, leaders believe the system can better help sexual assault victims.
“We want to ensure all SARCs and VAs are certified by the end of this fiscal year and that training meets the DOD standards,” she said. “Having the best trained people on the front line helps ensure taking care of the victim becomes integral to the entire process.”
Leaders are now focused more on the perpetrators rather than what the victim could have done to avoid the situation. Thompson said this includes using research experts to better identify who is committing these crimes and how they are doing it, especially with serial offenders.
The National Guard Bureau established the Office of Complex Investigations approximately a year ago. Some of the new techniques the investigators are using are getting good results, Lux said.
“We are seeing better disposition of the cases and victim willingness to participate in investigations now that investigators are getting away from the ‘who/what/when/where/how’ interrogation techniques,” she said.
In addition to training for SARCs and VAs, other programs are addressing what potential service members need to be aware of during the recruitment process.
Commanders are also getting specialized training on creating an environment that will encourage service members to report incidents. Thompson explained specific training is required before leaders assume command, and that climate surveys are being conducted within 120 days of an officer assuming command.
“People are being held responsible, and this assessment will be very important in developing a safe climate,” he said.
In fiscal year 2012, there were 201 incidents reported within the National Guard. However, based on data extrapolated from an anonymous service member survey conducted by the Defense Management Data Center, experts believe the actual number could be as high as 4,500.
State and territory adjutants general and leaders face challenges unique to the National Guard, because of the different statuses personnel can be in while performing duty.
“It becomes a challenge, because benefits can only be extended when members are in duty status,” Lux said. “We still have to take care of that service member, though, by helping them get to resources they will need.”
With better training and education, Lux said, she believes victims’ confidence will increase and they’ll be more likely to come forward to report incidents.
“Sexual assault is a traumatic and painful experience,” she said. “We want to increase the number of unrestricted reports by showing victims there are avenues for help.”