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American Forces Press Service

DOD Focuses on Leaders, Recruits in Sexual Assault Prevention

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2012 – Defense Department measures announced yesterday focus on military commanders, senior enlisted and frontline leaders as key in the battle to prevent and respond to sexual assault, a senior defense official said today.

Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told American Forces Press Service the department will strengthen pre-command and senior enlisted training and assess initial officer and enlisted training across the services.

“We’re doing an ongoing assessment of multiple training venues, but the first one the secretary wanted to hit was the pre-command course,” Patton said. “Commanders play a key role in sexual assault prevention and response.”

He noted commanders are responsible for enforcing DOD policies on sexual assault, and for creating a unit climate that supports victims, holds offenders accountable and encourages all service members to prevent unsafe behavior.

“We think such a culture starts with leaders and permeates down to the lowest levels,” Patton said.

In January, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta directed Patton’s office to review sexual assault prevention and response training received by officers and senior noncommissioned officers before they assume unit command or senior enlisted positions. That review generated recommendations aimed at making best practices in one service into common practices across all the services, he added.

In a memo to service chiefs yesterday, Panetta directed them to:

-- Develop and implement standardized core competencies and learning objectives applicable to pre-command and senior enlisted leader sexual assault prevention and response training;

-- Develop and implement standardized methods for objectively assessing the effectiveness of pre-command and senior enlisted leader sexual assault prevention and response training;

-- Provide a dedicated block of interactive instruction for commanders and senior enlisted leaders that allows for sufficient time to achieve learning objectives;

-- Provide program information and guidance for commanders in a quick-reference "Commander's Guide”;

-- Assess commanders' and senior enlisted leaders' understanding and mastery of key sexual assault prevention and response concepts and skills; and

-- Develop and implement commander and senior enlisted leader refresher training to sustain skills and knowledge.

Patton said his office will work with the services’ senior sexual assault prevention and response program managers to develop the required standardized core competencies and learning objectives.

“For example, all commanders must understand the reporting options available to a victim of sexual assault,” he said. Other key concepts, he added, include the wide range of victim services available and that sexual assault investigations are conducted by professional military criminal investigative organizations, not by commanders.

In reviewing existing pre-command sexual assault prevention training, Patton said, his staff saw many innovative approaches to the topic that the new standardized training will emphasize.

“Let’s get away from PowerPoint; let’s get to interactive training,” he said.

In a parallel effort, he said, the secretary of defense directed the services to examine the training environments where new service members -- officer and enlisted -- begin their military careers. Patton acknowledged the sexual misconduct cases at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, contributed to the comprehensive review.

“It’s also something the secretary of defense has been concerned about for some time, and part of a broader effort in the department to address the crime of sexual assault,” he said.

Safe, secure learning environments are critical to young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, the general said. “We know that those youngest and newest service members are the ones most likely to experience a sexual assault,” he said.

The review will examine timing and delivery of sexual assault prevention training, processes for gathering student feedback, and trainee access to sexual assault prevention and response programs, he said. It also will examine the selection, training and oversight of instructors, instructor-student ratios, leader-instructor ratios within training units, and the potential benefit of increasing the number of female instructors, he added.

The review is aimed at achieving two ends, he said: “One is to create a safe environment for our initial military trainees; and two, deter and detect those who choose to ignore standards and engage in inappropriate or criminal behavior.”

Panetta will receive the review’s results in February, Patton noted. He said he’s confident each of the services takes the matter seriously.

“They’ll go out and give this a very comprehensive and close examination,” he said. “I know they’re all interested in making their training environments safer and better … for their newest service members.”

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