- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

The Fort Myer Military Community last month joined with the entire armed services and the rest of the nation in raising awareness about sexual assault.

The monthlong observance and new Web campaign in the military focused on shared responsibility in preventing such attacks.

In a memorandum issued April 13, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said: “The 2009 SAAM theme, ‘Our Strength is for Defending,’ reflects the Department’s efforts to raise awareness and stop sexual violence. … Fighting this crime begins with accountability and strong leadership - up, down and across the chain of command - from junior enlisted members to senior noncommissioned officers to commanders.”

In addition to the education seminars and lectures, Fort Myer Military Community, which is made of Fort Myer and Fort McNair, held community events to draw more people in.



About 160 service members and civilians participated in a 5K run, which was followed by a chili cook-off. Informational presentations about sexual assault were featured during the event, which was organized by the Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command and the Fort Myer Army Community Service.

“We were happy to help coordinate the run,” said Brandon Lamberson of the Fort Myer Fitness Center, who organizes the bases’ monthly fun runs. “All of our missions are to make a soldier’s life easier, and by working together to help stop sexual assault, we’re doing exactly that.”

The military has strengthened its efforts to fight sexual assault in recent years.

In January 2005, the Department of Defense presented Congress with a policy on responding to and preventing sexual assault.

One of the major changes with this policy was the start of restricted and unrestricted reporting. Restricted reporting allows victims to report the assault and receive care and counseling without starting the official investigative process.

Unrestricted reporting gives the victims a chance to receive treatment, counseling and an official investigation, whether through chain of command or law enforcement.

The Uniformed Code of Military Justice can have strict punishments for offenders. The maximum penalty for rape is death. But the court-martial process can be difficult for victims.

The Army’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office has expanded its focus from victims services alone to prevention.

In 2008, there were 2,908 reports of sexual assault involving service members, an 8 percent increase from 2007, according to military statistics. Unrestricted reports rose by 9 percent, and restricted reports rose by 7 percent.

The Department of Defense considers this increase encouraging, according to the 2008 report called “Sexual Assault in the Military.” The Department of Defense encourages more reporting so that it can offer treatment and hold offenders accountable at a greater rate.

In addition, the report notes that a rise in reports does not necessarily mean a rise in incidents. Sexual assault is considered one of the most underreported crimes in the United States; a rise in reports can signal that a greater proportion of cases are being brought to proper attention.

• Alex McVeigh is a writer living in Annandale.

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