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Great Lakes says sex assault reports have fallen because of pilot program

Capt. Caroline Nelschief staff U.S. Navy RegiMidwest said number reported sexual assaults GreLakes Naval Base has been cut substantially since

Capt. Caroline Nelson, chief of staff of the U.S. Navy Region Midwest, said the number of reported sexual assaults at Great Lakes Naval Base has been cut substantially since the implementation of a targeted awareness and victim support program.

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Updated: July 10, 2013 6:20AM

As the rising number of sexual assaults in the military returns to the national spotlight, Midwest Navy officials say they’re beginning to buck the trend thanks to a targeted awareness and victim support program at the Great Lakes Naval Base.

The pilot program, which began in 2010 has led to a drop in reported assaults, Navy officials say. Under the program, sailors are learning how to intervene as bystanders, even if it means confronting a fellow sailor or telling a bartender to stop serving someone harassing another sailor.

In some cases, local hotel owners are reporting all manner of problems with sailors to Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, who are making spot checks. And much more attention is being brought to treating victims, including educating military medical staff to treat victims with sensitivity.

The number of reports at the base’s Training Support Center, where the majority of serious sexual assaults were being reported, has dropped by more than 50 percent within two years since the pilot program began, according to Capt. Caroline Nielson, chief of staff at Navy Region Midwest.

“The results that we have tracked are promising and encouraging,” Nielson said.

At the center where some 16,000 sailors learn specialized training, Nielson said the number of reported sexual assaults dropped by half in 2011. In 2012, it also decreased. She said 2013 figures show a leveling off of the 2012 numbers. The Navy did not provide the exact figures.

The pilot program is in response to a high number of sexual assaults reported at the base prior to 2011, and specifically between 2005 and 2006, according to a Navy official. Of the assaults reported at the base, 75 percent involved alcohol use, Nielson said.

Within the Great Lakes program, training begins early, with recruits, and at three different times within eight weeks. At the Training Support center, sailors are taught “Bystander Intervention Training,” which focuses on “our thought that sometimes the victim is not able to help themselves.” The training teaches sailors the signs, such as too much direct attention by a sailor or civilian, or noticing “anything that goes kind of beyond sexual flirting,” Nielson said.

The Great Lakes base also has the Fleet and Family Service Center, where counselors are specifically trained in sexual assault prevention and response. Full-time counselors are being hired from the civilian world, but some in the military are also receiving a 40-hour training and certification.

Despite some strides, some in the support community say there is still much more work to do to “change the culture.” Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault spokesman Sean Black said he questions why the Navy is not hiring independent sexual abuse experts at its bases, instead of training counselors on their own.

“We’ve been running crisis centers and have been helping victims for more than 30 years, specifically catering to victims,” Black said. “We’re really the best help they can get.”

Black said the military must continue to give victims the “stability and the faith that the rapist will be held accountable.”

“We can’t have these higher ups dismiss these rape claims,” Black said. “You have to give them the safety, provide them with the services to get help.”

Nationwide, 550 sexual assaults were reported within the Navy in 2011. In 2012, the number jumped to 701, according to the Navy’s 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty.

A Department of Defense report released last month showed there were a total of 3,374 reports of sexual assault involving service members in the military, an increase from the 3,192 reported in 2011. The reports range from abusive sexual contact to rape.

The figures were released amid recent scandals, including the arrest of the Air Force’s head of sexual assault prevention for an alleged sexual battery.

A Navy official said the Great Lakes pilot program has expanded to San Diego, Calif. And will soon be instituted in bases in both Japan and Italy within the next six months.

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