- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The first midshipmen to take part in a new sexual harassment prevention program involving peer training at the U.S. Naval Academy responded positively to the program, an academy official said yesterday.

The initiative is called the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education Program (SHAPE). It was designed to incorporate midshipmen into the teaching process, because peers have been found to communicate better with people their own age on the subject.

Cmdr. Ricks Polk, the academy’s sexual assault response coordinator, said 32 midshipmen have been trained to teach the program. About 900 of 1,200 first-year students, also known as plebes, have gone through the first session of the initiative. The other 300 will get the training in the next two weeks.

“We found out that midshipmen aren’t as resistant to the education as we thought they were going to be,” Cmdr. Polk said. “In fact, they were more interactive than we anticipated.”

In a report to the academy’s Board of Visitors, Cmdr. Polk said the service academy was prepared “take on a more confrontational approach” to make midshipmen take the lessons to heart, but that it wasn’t necessary.

Cmdr. Polk said, “Closing the discussion down was more challenging for us than it was to get them to interact on the discussion.”

“There was good interaction across the board with all of them and good, positive feedback from the midshipmen,” Cmdr. Polk said.

The program also was established to create a more structured approach to raising awareness of sexual misconduct over a midshipman’s four years at the academy.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and a member of the Board of Visitors, took the report as a positive sign, after a tough year at the academy with sexual harassment cases.

“That seems as if that’s a good sign that they want to take on the responsibility of doing the right thing,” Mr. Cummings said.

The Class of 2011 is the first to take part in the program.

The initiative focuses on explaining details about what constitutes rape and the psychological impacts of the crime. It also will include discussions about dating, consent, the role alcohol plays in relationships and the legal aspects of sexual assault.

The academy expelled former football star Lamar Owens in April after he was acquitted of raping a fellow midshipman but convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer. Also in April, another former football player, Kenny Ray Morrison, was convicted of sexually assaulting a fellow midshipman.

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