Navy Male Sexual Assaults
Leaders: Make sex assault prevention a priority
By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Dec 1, 2009 9:34:21 EST
Male-on-male sexual assault is increasing in the Navy, according to a Navy Department study, a trend officials called “surprising.”
About 7 percent of the sexual assaults reported in the Navy over the last year were male-on-male, up from 4 percent in 2004, the first year for which data were available. About 1.2 percent of the assaults in the Marine Corps were male-on-male, although officials had no earlier figures with which to compare that.
The findings came from the Navy Department’s first sexual assault survey, conducted online earlier this year, and are laid out in detail in the report now being reviewed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Navy Undersecretary Bob Work. Officials expect to release the report sometime in December, after Mabus, Work, and the chiefs of the Navy and Marine Corps have read it.
Jill Loftus, who heads the Navy Department’s new office charged with ending sexual assault, talked with Navy Times about some of the findings of the report, but said she couldn’t give many details — including precise statistics — until the report is released publicly. Loftus said officials aren’t sure whether the increase in male-on-male assaults means there are more gay sailors and Marines or whether it just represented what she called “hazing, drunken frat-boy activity.”
She did say that five years ago, sexual assault response officials had so little data about it they considered male-on-male assaults “a myth.” It’s also possible that this has been a long-standing phenomenon in the Navy and Marine Corps, but were overlooked in what service officials now admit was a long tradition of slipshod collection and analysis of data.
Loftus said that 46 percent of the male victim survey respondents — who, along with all the other respondents, answered questions anonymously online — said they never told anyone about their assaults, not even friends.
Loftus acknowledged a deep, cultural unwillingness for Navy and Marine Corps leaders to treat male sexual assault victims equally with women. For example, she said, although women who report being assaulted are typically sent to gynecologists and professional response coordinators, there are few guidelines for how a unit should help a man who reports he’s been victimized.
In another example, commanders of all-male units told Navy Department officials they didn’t need training on sexual assaults or sexual assault response coordinators because they assume they won’t use them with only men in their units, Loftus said.
About 85,000 sailors and Marines took the sexual assault survey this summer, officials said, roughly half from each service. About 1 in every 5 female respondents said she had been the victim of some kind of sexual assault since joining, and 1 in 15 said she had been raped. Some 40 percent of respondents said they hadn’t reported their attack.
Other findings in the sexual assault report: The overall number of assaults hasn’t increased dramatically since 2004; and the Navy Department must focus on preventing attacks, rather than offering after-the-fact care to victims. The report also stressed that the Navy and Marines must do a better job of integrating the sources of reports about sexual assaults, and maintaining and reporting that data in keeping with the Defense Department’s guidelines.
“Make this a priority issue in your command or unit. Most of you track your latest Class A mishap, [drunken-driving incident], off-duty incident, etc. Sexual assaults warrant, at the minimum, the same level of command attention,” wrote Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert in an Oct. 29 message to commanders.
The report made 30 recommendations, including calling for more sexual assault response coordinators in Navy and Marine units, and that they be service members or government civilians, not contractors. The Navy and Marines must also stress more involvement by local commanders in preventing sexual assaults.