Pentagon plans sexual assault prevention campaign

  • Published
  • By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
  • American Forces Press Service
Just as the armed forces paved the way for integration more than 60 years ago, Defense Department officials are working to prevent sexual assault not only in the military, but also throughout the nation, the department's top prevention expert said here March 6.

"It is our goal to develop a sexual assault prevention program that can be a benchmark for the nation," Kaye Whitley, director of the department's sexual assault prevention and response program, told members of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee.

The department's prevention efforts really only began in 2007, and its success will take more than just good ideas, Ms. Whitley said. Through joint efforts with private-sector experts and collaborative studies, the department realized that programs supported by legitimate research will ensure the best results.

Those experts, Ms. Whitley said, have determined three points from the past year's research they think will improve prevention and response:
-- Implementing lasting prevention measures by using a framework that takes action at all levels of military society;
-- Using social marketing campaigns to link all of its efforts to prevent sexual assault; and
-- Focusing on using bystander intervention techniques to complement its efforts.

"The department believes that prevention can only occur with an organized, comprehensive approach that is based on research," Ms. Whitley said, noting that each of the services used these points to develop their own sexual assault prevention programs.

The department's strategy is built on what officials call the "spectrum of prevention," she said, a nationally recognized framework that has been used in other campaigns throughout the country.

"The spectrum of prevention suggests that social harm can only be prevented by taking multiple actions at every level of society," she explained. "The levels range from improving individual skills at the lowest levels to influencing policy at the highest."

The department will launch a marketing campaign featuring two public service announcements in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Ms. Whitley said she hopes the campaign will persuade people to "behave in ways that improves their own personal welfare and that of society. The campaign makes it very clear that each military member has a moral duty to step up and take action to prevent sexual assault."

The initial campaign is designed to inform military members about the sexual assault prevention and response programs and to demonstrate key points in the bystander intervention approach. The strategy will require commitment, cooperation, time and patience, she said.

Ms. Whitley said she hopes the sexual assault prevention strategy will have similarly positive effects as that of campaigns against drunken driving. As the program progresses, she expects the number of reports to increase as bystander intervention improves and culture changes.

"As the comprehensive strategy takes hold over the years, we look forward to the day that those numbers decrease, not because of fear or stigma of reporting, but because sexual assault is being systematically prevented," she said.

Today's hearing was the second in a three-part series the House Armed Services Committee is holding on sexual assault prevention, awareness and response programs and strategies in the Defense Department. The first occurred in January, and the third will take place later this year.