USA: Navy Secretary Voices Anger amid Scourge of Sexual Assault in the Ranks

 Navy Secretary Voices Anger amid Scourge of Sexual Assault in the Ranks

The U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is not concerned about sexual assault in the service. He’s angry.

The Navy has been taking steps for years to combat the scourge of sexual assault in the ranks, Mabus told the Defense Writers Group in Washington yesterday and has two cultural barriers to break down.

The first culture that has to change is the “one that says this is OK, or that it is not really serious,” he said.

“The other is the mindset of a victim who says, ‘I’m not going to report this, because nothing will happen. I won’t be taken seriously, it won’t be investigated, and it will hurt my career.'”

The Navy is aiming resources at where it has a problem, the secretary said. The Air Force has had a problem of sexual assault at basic training, he noted, and the Navy has had a problem at its follow-on schools.

 “We’ve have put a lot of attention at our ‘A’ schools,” he said.

As the service finds programs that work, Mabus said, officials export them to other commands. The “A” school initiatives started at Great Lakes, Ill., and have moved on to Navy schools in San Diego and Pensacola, Fla.

 The Navy has been aggressive, the service’s top civilian official said. “We’re sending shore patrols out — the first time in a long time we’ve done that,” he added. “We’re stressing bystander intervention.”

The service also is continuing efforts to cut alcohol abuse, because a large number of sexual assaults have had an alcohol component, the secretary said.

Another area of focus zeroes in on what happens if an incident happens.

“Is it reported? How quickly and how well do we respond?” Mabus said. “Is the command climate right for people to report?”

Tied to this is victim assistance, he added. How local officials help the victims in these cases is important to him, Mabus said.

Finally, investigation and prosecution is important to the Navy. Mabus has authorized more money to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for more investigators and more resources.

 “It was taking up to 180 days to investigate an incident,” he said. “Initially, we think we can get this down to 80 days.”

The Navy also is spending more to train its lawyers in these cases, the secretary said.

Measuring what works and what doesn’t also is part of this effort, Mabus said.

“Can we figure out what the best practices are?” he asked. “We’re beginning to make some headway there.”

Mabus said he thinks taking away a commander’s right to overturn a conviction is long overdue.

 “Right now, if you are convicted of sexual assault, you are referred to a board of inquiry to see if you’ll be allowed to stay [in the service],” he said. The notion that “if you’re convicted, you’re out” is the way to go, he added.

The secretary said he looks at sexual assault as an internal attack that must be dealt with.

 “We’re finding pretty dramatic results in places like Great Lakes, where we’ve rolled out these programs,” he said. “Our job is to get them fleetwide.”

Press Release, June 14, 2013; Image: US Navy